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Employment tribunal fees – good news or bad?

Dec 19, 2012
Employment law has long been a hot potato. Depending on where you sit, it is either hopelessly ineffective at protecting vulnerable employees against immoral employers, or a huge legal and administrative burden that allows well meaning employers to be unfairly pursued by former employees with spurious claims.

Here, Andrew Buckley of Woodfines solicitors looks at the good and the bad of the new legislation.

We can all come up with examples to illustrate either viewpoint.  Small wonder, then, that the government are keen to make reforms.

In 2011, the coalition government indicated that Claimants in Employment Tribunal cases would start to have to pay fees for pursuing cases.  In December 2011, a consultation document (Charging Fees in Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal) was launched, and views were sought as to how fees should be implemented.

The consultation closed in March 2012, and the government published its response on 13 July, 2012.  The government hopes that fees will be introduced in the summer of 2013.  The proposal is that Claimants will pay a fee when they issue their claim (the issue fee), and a further fee if the case proceeds to a final hearing (the hearing fee).

The amount of each fee payable will depend upon what type of case it is.  Level 1 fees will be payable for simple cases such as deductions from wages claims, and redundancy payment claims.  Level 2 claims will be payable for more complex cases such as unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.

It is currently proposed that the fees payable will be:

Level 1 – Issue Fee £160 and Hearing Fee £230
Level 2 – Issue Fee £250 and Hearing Fee £950

It is apparent from the responses to the consultation, that the proposals do not please either employees or employers.  Employee groups are opposed in principle to the idea of employees having to pay fees to bring tribunal cases.  They argue that introduction of a fee would unfairly disadvantage employees and prevent them from pursuing valid claims.  On the other hand, business groups argue that the proposals are unlikely to deter weak claims.

The government state that deterring claims is not the purpose of the proposals.  They say that in common with other courts, Employment Tribunals should be partially self-funding.  However, the government had originally indicated that deterring claims was not the purpose of the proposals, but then withdrew this suggestion.

There are other fundamental criticisms of the proposals.  Firstly, it is thought that having a 2 stage fee system will clog up the tribunal – employers will delay making offers to settle cases to see if the employee pays the hearing fee, and employees who have paid the hearing fee may be less likely to accept reasonable proposals from the employer.  Secondly, applications at the end of cases for orders that another party should be responsible for the fees are likely to become common, which will take up more Tribunal time.

Whether the proposals change the system for the better remains to be seen.

Andrew Buckley

Andrew Buckley has been a solicitor for 12 years and has specialised entirely in employment law matters, usually representing employers.  He is a member of the Solicitors Association of Higher Courts Advocates, as well as the Employment Lawyers Association.  He is a partner in the Employment department at Woodfines.

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