Last year fees were introduced to employment tribunals. The fees have been the subject of two legal challenges and we are awaiting the findings of the court. Employment tribunal panellist and HR advisor John Williams reviews the impact of the introduction of the fees.
It is worth a look at the last quarterly statistics published by the Ministry of Justice for January to March 2014. These show that single claims are down by 58.4% and a 67.8% drop in multiple claims.
For employers this will be seen as good news. I believe that two factors come into play here. Firstly the increase to two years continuous service before an unfair dismissal claim can be brought has cut numbers. Secondly the introduction of fees from 29th July 2013; it now costs up to £1200 to bring an unfair dismissal or discrimination and up to £390 for a wages claim. There is no doubt that these 2 factors have had a huge impact. Early conciliation has recently come into play which may also reduce the number of hearings.
Most observers believe that the two year rule and the principle of fees would survive a change in government. Cost reduction is still the order of the day and few would go to the barricades to preserve employment tribunals! However there is an access to justice issue here. In my experience there are some pretty bad employers out there who treat, usually lower paid, employees appallingly on occasions. So would a reduction in fees make a difference?
The 2013 Survey of Employment Tribunal Applications (SETA) asked claimants whether an application fee of £250 (this was before fees were introduced) would influence their decision to go to tribunal. Interestingly those under 34 were more likely to be influenced as were temporary workers and lower paid employees. Of the total sample 49% felt that the £250 fee would influence their decision. So a new Government could reduce the £1200 fee by half and it would still have a deterrent effect based on the SETA findings.
Some commentators also criticise the removal of lay members from unfair dismissal hearings. The impact of the “industrial jury” injecting their specialised knowledge and experience in those cases ensured that the “real world” did enter the tribunal room. Most judges valued the Lay Members input and wisdom and this also demonstrated to the parties that their cases benefited from thorough analysis from all sides of the employment world. Despite the drastic fall in claims I do not see Lay Members returning to ordinary unfair dismissal cases.
Some other observers have suggested that Lay Members could be dispensed with altogether and the Employment Tribunals be absorbed into the County Court as a separate Employment Division with lay assessors helping on complicated cases. Currently all Tribunal Members, lay or lawyer, are equal in their decision making powers. Two lay members can outvote the legally qualified judge which could not happen in the County Court scenario above.
Having said all this if disputes are properly resolved close to the workplace or preferably in it then that must be better than the adversarial approach. As those who go know despite its informality giving evidence is not a pleasant experience and best avoided if you can.
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