A review looking into the impact of the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees has now been published by the Ministry of Justice.
Access to Employment Tribunals was free until July 2013, when fees were introduced for those bringing a claim. It has since been widely reported that introduction of the fees has resulted in a dramatic fall in the number cases being brought before Employment Tribunals. The change was been criticised by trade unions, who have called for the fees to be scrapped and have launched legal action.
The government also introduced a requirement that if a person wants to submit a claim to an Employment Tribunal, they must first refer the dispute to Acas to see if conciliation would be a suitable avenue to resolve the dispute (some exceptions do apply). The government made this requirement compulsory in May 2014.
A review was announced to reflect on the effect of the fees and whether the new system fulfils the aims they set out. Broadly speaking, the objectives were to shift the costs from the taxpayer to those who use it, encourage the use of alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution and ensure access to justice is protected.
The government is happy that the introduction of fees has met the desired objectives. They did concede that “While there is clear evidence that ET fees have discouraged people from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so.”
They conceded that the fall in claims has been substantial and greater than anticipated, but they said that more people turned to Acas’ conciliation service. They also admitted that there were people whose dispute was not resolved through conciliation and who did not seek action in an Employment Tribunal due to the costs. However, they were firm that they did not believe that this necessarily meant that these people could not realistically afford to pay the fees. They attributed it to other factors, for example, people not being aware of the help available.
They also found that there was no proof that maternity and pregnancy discrimination claims had particularly felt the burn of the fees. As such, they decided that there was no reason for the fees for these claims to be slashed.
The review concluded that three types of proceedings relating to payments from the National Insurance Fund would be exempt from fees.
The review did highlight that some action was required to quell some concerns, therefore it has launched a consultation proposing reforms. In particular, it focuses on broadening access to the Help with Fees scheme, which helps provide access to tribunals to those on low incomes who without help would not be able to bring a claim.
The consultation will run until the 14th March 2017.