On Wednesday 26th July, members of the Supreme Court voted unanimously that the Government’s implementation of employment tribunal fees was ‘unlawful’ and ‘unconstitutional’, a move which saw the fees officially scrapped and workers ecstatic to reclaim their legal rights.
The Government introduced the fees four years ago and will now be required to pay refunds in order to compensate those who were subject to the expenses since 2013.
The fees, which cost up to £1,200, have been labelled “indirectly discriminatory” and during the ruling, the Supreme Court commented, “a significant number of people have found the fees unaffordable”.
Why Were Tribunal Fees Introduced in the First Place?
Back in 2013, when the fees were first implemented, the Government said that one of the reasons for this was to encourage people to look for more amicable alternatives to taking their employer to Court, such as mediation.
They also mentioned that they hope the fees will make individuals less reliant on taxpayers’ money.
The prices began at around £400 – for level one claims, which include disputes regarding redundancy pay, holiday pay and unlawful deductions. It was argued that another reason to bring in the fees would discourage employees from pursuing these kinds of cases, labelled ‘vexatious and trivial’.
However, the Government were wrong in making this assumption when they discovered that the number of successful claims being brought to court was not increasing in the slightest.
Instead of acting as a deterrent, this simply obstructed workers from seeking to take legal action.
For level two claims (more complex issues such as discrimination, equal pay concerns and unfair dismissal) could cost up to £1,200. This includes £250 initially to issue the case and a further £950 for a hearing.
UNISON branded the price of level two claims “discriminatory” due to a significant portion of equal pay and harassment cases involving women, and the Supreme Court added that this fee was contrary to the Equality Act 2010 as it disproportionally affected women.
David Isaac, who is the chairman of the Equality & Human Rights Committee, also highlighted the injustice female employees’ face, saying “Women face a double penalty with high fees and short time scales to bring maternity discrimination cases”.
What Brought About The Change?
UNISON is one of the UK’s largest trade unions who actively represent employees working in both the public and private sector with 1.3 million members; it is hardly surprising the Supreme Court took their concerns very seriously.
UNISON had been calling for the eradication of the fees ever since they were first introduced, but have finally been victorious in helping employees across England, Scotland and Wales take their unfair, and sometimes criminal, employers to court without the need to spend hundreds of pounds.
A Government report concluded that since 2013, the number of cases taken to employment tribunals has decreased by a massive 70%.
These statistics confirm a statement made by the general secretary of UNISON – Dave Prentis, who said: “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up”.
Easier Access to Tribunals for Low-Earning Workers
Prentis has declared the court ruling is a ‘major victory’ for workers everywhere, as individuals who are earning low incomes will be able to enforce their rights against unscrupulous employers, making the fight for justice much easier and inclusive.
Employers who are aware they have behaved illicitly in the past but were never formally taken to court may believe they have gotten away with their actions, and this was highlighted in an article by the Independent back in 2014. The article shows that since the implementation of the fees, only 1,222 women pursued sex discrimination claims compared to 6,017 claims before the fees were introduced.
They also revealed that a lot of employees are being put off from taking legal action as the fees are often more costly than the sum of their outstanding wages, especially if they are on a lower income.
Employment Law Advice
With this new ruling on tribunal fees, it is more important than ever for employers to ensure that they are compliant with all legislation surrounding employment.
Without the deterrent of costly fees in place employees who are in the workplace where there are lapses in compliance will now find it much easier to start proceedings against their employers.
PeoplePointHR is able to offer businesses expert advice and guidance when it comes to all matters involving employment law. We can help you ensure all the relevant policies and procedures are in place, ensuring compliance and reducing the likelihood of employees ever being in a position where they feel it is necessary to start tribunal procedures against your organisation.
Also, if your firm is already involved in a legal battle with an employee, or proceedings are imminent, our employment law advisers can offer you advice, or put together your defence.
November 2017 – Tribunal Fees Refunds Available to All
Four months after Tribunal Fees were abolished, refunds are finally readily available to anyone who made a claim.
This full refund scheme became available on the 15th November and is predicted to cost the Government around £33 million in total.
If you would like further information about the new rulings on tribunal fees, please do not hesitate to contact People Point HR to receive advice from one of our employment law experts.