TUC welcomes investigation into the price of justice

Government says it will look into falling number of tribunal claims


The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has today welcomed the news that the government will undertake a review into the impact of employment tribunal fees on access to justice.

New figures published today by the Ministry of Justice have shown that the number of single employment tribunal claims brought by individuals between January and March this year was 25 per cent lower than in the same period in 2014.

This is a slight increase on previous months, but claims remain 69 per cent lower than they were between January and March in 2013, shortly before the fees were introduced.

In the first six months after the law was changed, unfair dismissal claims and other complaints fell by 55 per cent. In the same period, the number of sex discrimination cases fell by 91 per cent.

The TUC says that a slight increase in multiple claims is the result of trade unions pursuing cases for members following the European Court of Justice’s decision on holiday pay in November 2014.

The TUC has made clear that it expects the review to be thorough and comprehensive. General secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Tribunal fees have been a gift for Britain’s worse bosses allowing many to flout the law. Charging people up to £1,200 to pursue a claim has priced thousands out of justice and ruined lives.

“Women and the lowest paid have been the worst affected. Individual claims are still falling and are 69 per cent down on their total before fees were first introduced.

“This review is a welcome, if long overdue, announcement. However, it must not shy away from telling hard truths. It has to be transparent and prepared to recommend abolishing the current system.

“If it all it does is come up with half-measures then it is likely to be viewed by many as a political stitch-up. Tribunal fees need to be scrapped urgently.”

The government says that the fees were introduced as a way of shifting a proportion of the costs from the taxpayer to those who use the tribunal ‘where they can afford to do so’; but there are no measures in place for those who cannot afford it.

It also says that the change was supposed to encourage parties to seek alternative ways of solving their disputes. Supporters of the fee say that the drop in the number of cases is a good thing, as it shows that people with weak claims are being discouraged, – it is a disincentive to people who are trying to make quick cash.

As Chris Mordue of law firm Pinsent Masons put it, the introduction of fees has meant that ‘people without a strong and valid case have been put off making claims in the hope of making a quick buck’.

It is tempting to conclude that ‘weak’ for Mordue simply means ‘not involving much money’. The TUC say that often people are put off making a claim because the fees would eclipse the amount they stand to gain, making any wins purely a matter of principle and for many people not worth the stress.

Everything else aside, the fee is not even an effective filter for weak claims. A 2013 government survey showed that 65 per cent of those with an annual salary of less than £10,000 said the requirement to pay £250 would influence their decision, compared to 24 per cent of those earning £40,000 or more.

So in theory, better-off people out to ‘make a quick buck’ may still be doing so.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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