The Ministry of Justice has recently launched a consultation on the proposal to charge fees for bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal. This is one of the Government’s many controversial proposals, forming part of the wider reforms to encourage early resolution of workplace disputes.
In the financial year 2010/11, 218,000 Employment Tribunal claims were presented and 2,048 appeals were made to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, costing the taxpayer £84.2 million. The Government has therefore proposed two fee charging structures to reduce the cost to the taxpayer whilst protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable.
There are two proposed fee options. Option one would require a claimant to pay an issue fee between £150-£250 to bring a claim. A further fee, between £250-£1,250, would be payable by the claimant if the claim went to a hearing. Option two requires the claimant to provide an estimate of the award they are seeking from the Tribunal. The issue fee will vary from £200-£1,750, depending on whether the claimant is seeking an award higher than £30,000. For both options, the Tribunal would also have the power to order the losing party to reimburse the fees of the successful party.
The proposals will bring Employment Tribunals more in line with Civil Courts where claimants are required to pay an issue fee. However, there are concerns that the introduction of fees will deny workers basic access to justice. For example, the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commented that the Government’s proposals to introduce fees “will effectively prevent the poorest and most vulnerable workers from ever being able to get justice”. However, it is worth noting that HM Courts & Tribunals Service operates a “remission system” whereby an individual may be entitled to part or full remission of fees. If, for example, a claimant is in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance or Income Support this may mean that no fee is payable.
The CBI has welcomed the introduction of fees as a good way of weeding out more of the weak and vexatious claims and, in principle, it may appear that the fee proposals would deter claimants from seeking to bring unmeritorious claims. However, arguably, due to the proposal for fees to be means tested, it may not in practice reduce the number of claims being brought.
The consultation closes on 6 March 2012. If the Government decides to implement option one, fees would be introduced in 2013. If option two is adopted, it is unlikely to come into force until 2014.