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What is next for employment tribunal fees?

The supreme court has recently, and unanimously, decided that employment tribunal fees are unlawful at their current high rates

It can cost a worker up to £1,200 to submit a claim; for many workers, who may have just lost their income giving rise to the very claim they wish to make, this is simply unaffordable.

The aim of the higher fees, according to the government, was threefold. Firstly, it was thought that it was better to transfer the costs of running employment tribunals from the taxpayer to those who use tribunals.

Secondly, it was thought that such high costs would reduce the number of claims, as those who had little chance of success were less likely to proceed. The third reason was that it was thought that it would encourage early settlement of claims, thereby reducing the strain on the employment courts.

Clearly this would also mean that workers would settle for a lower compensation award than they may perhaps be entitled to from their (former) employer. It has been claimed by Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, that the fees regime has been a complete failure.

He stated that because the fees were so high, they deterred the majority of potential claimants from issuing their claims at court; as a result, the income from the increased fees was totally insufficient to transfer the costs of running the courts from taxpayers to the court users.

It has also become apparent that fewer, not more, cases are settled at an early stage, as employers will wait to see whether the worker will pay the court fee. Moyer-Lee has suggested that, above all, the increased fees have priced working people out of justice and have resulted in employment rights being toothless. It is financially beyond the majority of people to enforce these rights.

It now appears that the ball is in the government’s court, which is required to introduce new tribunal fees that do not block access to justice for workers. The judgment is clear in stating that court fees can be lawful, but only if they are reasonable, necessary and proportionate to the ends they serve.

Employment law claims are not always of a very high value; in addition, the court stated very clearly that the fees should be set at a level that everyone can afford.Employers should be on the look-out for the restitution of claims that were previously submitted but rejected by the court as the worker could not afford the fee. It may be that the employment tribunal will now revive the claim.

In addition, a tribunal may accept out-of-date claims if they were not brought previously because of court fees.

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