The Employment Tribunal ("the Tribunal") deals solely with disputes between employers and employees and has undergone several changes in recent years. Most notably, in 2013, the Government introduced fees to bring a claim in the Tribunal.
The fees for a single claim start at around £160.00, and rise to between £230.00 and £950.00 for hearings depending upon the type of claim brought. The fees were introduced with a view to transferring the costs of running the Tribunal from the Tax Payer, to the people actually using the Tribunal.
Since the introduction of fees, the number of claims has fallen considerably and continues to do so. The Council of Employment Judges released a consultation in which they outlined that they have seen a fall in the number of Claims that may be for a 'small' amount but significant to the individual involved.
There is a free 'conciliation' service run by ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and many claims are now settled at this stage. However, this may be due to the need to avoid paying the fees to actually issue the claim should the parties not come to an agreement.
As a result of the above, the Government has conducted a consultation on proposals to further help people under the Help with Fees scheme. The outcome of that consultation was that the Government has proposed to increase the income threshold for a full fee remission from £1,085.00 to £1,250.00 (for a single adult with no children).
The Help with Fees scheme allows applicants who fall within the required parameters to have reduced fees or even a full fee remission. The scheme is in place to help people with low income to have access to justice. The proposed increase in the threshold would enable more people to fall within the limits to apply and hopefully benefit from this scheme. You can find out if you are eligible for the scheme here (https://www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees)
Alongside the Government's consultation, there is a long running legal challenge to the introduction of the Tribunal's fees. Trade union 'Unison' launched this ongoing challenge in 2013 and claim that the introduction of fees has prevented thousands of employees from getting justice, effectively shutting out large numbers of the workforce and many of the claims that the Tribunal was set up to hear.
The case was heard in the High Court in 2013, and Unison appealed that decision in the Court of Appeal in 2015, the case was dismissed both times. Now, the claim has been heard in the Supreme Court and the final decision is expected around September 2017.
Further to the fee discussion, the Government has also published a consultation on plans to reform the Tribunal. This includes a proposal to digitise part of the claims process as well as plans to delegate some of the case management tasks to Tribunal caseworkers. Both designed to streamline the claims process.
All of this shows that the Government is not finished with its reforms to the Tribunal, and many parts of the claims process may undergo further changes in the future. Many parties have stressed that any reform should be accompanied by reform of the fee structure now in place.
The overarching message is that the fees should not dissuade people from pursuing the justice that they deserve. Accordingly, people should not be put off getting legal advice from a solicitor to provide advice on their case.
Employees are often disadvantaged as they are not aware of the law or their rights and this often results in clients not being aware that they may have the basis of a successful claim. At Clapham & Collinge we can offer a fixed fee for an initial appointment to explore your circumstances and whether you have a claim, and if so, the prospects of succeeding, and how best to proceed.