When employment tribunals were created in the 1960s, legal representation was discouraged. The focus was on providing a free service for employees who felt they were being treated unfairly in the work place.
What went wrong?
The difficulty came with the increasingly complex case law which created uncertainty around people’s rights. Employers also felt that they were being put to unnecessary expense defending groundless claims which were sometimes more cost effective to settle rather than let it run to a hearing. This was particularly the case where employees were not legally represented.
To try and redress this inbalance the coalition government announced in 2011 that it would introduce employment tribunal fees for people wishing to bring a claim in the employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. As always there was also a cost saving element to the reforms as the government wanted people who used the service to cover more of the cost of running it.
So what will happen?
From Monday 29th July 2013, employees will be asked to pay two employment tribunal fees. The first fee will be called the issue fee and must be paid when the claim form (ET1) is lodged with the Tribunal. The second is a hearing fee which will be due 4 -6 weeks before the hearing. How much this fee will be depends on what sort of claim you wish to bring.
How much will it cost?
If you are the only person bringing a claim against your employer, the type of claim you bring will be placed in one of two categories. Type A is for the more straightforward claims such as failure by an employer to pay you what you are entitled to under your contract e.g. holiday pay, notice pay etc. Such claims will attract a £160 issue fee and a £230 hearing fee. Type B is likely to be more common as it covers claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination and equal pay. Type B claims will attract a £250 issue fee and a £950 hearing fee.
Claims involving multiple employees (known as group action claims) will attract a group fee which is divided between the group.
Can we stop it?
Unsurprisingly, trade unions feel that the introduction of fees is unfair. UNISON and Fox and Partners have therefore applied for judicial review of the decision stating that the fees prevent employees exercising the rights given to them by law. Any intervention from the Courts will clearly come too late to prevent the introduction of fees but it has however been agreed that should a decision be made that the fees are unlawful, the Ministry of Justice will repay the fees which have been paid in the interim.
In conclusion, whilst the consultation response from the government stated that it was not the government's intention to deter claims, this seems an inevitable consequence and seems part of the coalition’s efforts to try and reduce employees’ rights in the workplace.
Katie Stephenson is a Solicitor in the Employment Department at BHW Solicitors in Leicester. Katie can be contacted on 0116 281 6227.
She has recently been asked to comment on the introduction of employment tribunal fees for the Leicester Mercury. To see more on this please click here.