Fall in employment tribunal cases on fees

The number of cases taken to employment tribunals has fallen by 70% since fees were introduced, a government review has found.

Unions called for the fees of up to £950 to be scrapped, saying the slump in claims mostly affected low-paid women.

The review said the introduction of fees had dramatically changed how workplace disputes were resolved, with a significant increase in the number of people turning to the conciliation service Acas.

The number of multiple claims taken to employment tribunals fell from 5,847 before fees were introduced to 1,740 in the year afterwards (2014-15) – a reduction of 70%. The number of single cases fell by a similar percentage.

Unison said the fees were ill-judged, had failed to save taxpayers’ money and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice.

Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The lord chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong.

“Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.”

Announcing plans to expand a scheme under which fees are waived for the lowest paid, the justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said: “It is right that those who can afford to should contribute to the cost of employment tribunals.

“Under our reforms, record numbers are bringing forward disputes in tribunals or through the Acas conciliation service. Costs should not prevent anyone bringing claims, so we are extending our Help with Fees scheme and will introduce a green paper on further legal support measures.”

Heald said it was hardly surprising that charging for something that was previously free would reduce demand. Users were contributing between £8.5m and £9m a year, in line with what was expected, he said.

But the review said the fall in claims had been much greater than originally estimated, adding: “In many cases, we consider this to be a positive outcome. More people have referred their disputes to Acas’s conciliation service.

“Nevertheless, there is also some evidence that some people who have been unable to resolve their disputes through conciliation have been discouraged from bringing a formal employment tribunal claim because of the requirement to pay a fee. The government has decided to take action to address these concerns.”

Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said: “The government is dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out.

“The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.”

The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka, said: “This review, slipped out while MPs are debating Brexit, shows a government not only content with closing off justice for workers but also celebrating a fall in discrimination claims as ‘broadly positive’.”