After months of uncertainty the Government has finally published its long awaited review in to Employment Tribunal fees. As part of the review they have confirmed that fees are here to stay but they have made a number of recommendations which seek to address growing concerns about the affect fees have had on access to the tribunal system.

Current fee regime

At the moment individuals are required to pay an issue fee and a hearing fee based on the type of claim they are pursuing. Type A claims, which include deduction from wages claims and statutory redundancy pay claims, incur an issue fee of £160 and a hearing fee of £230. Type B claims, including unfair dismissal and discrimination claims, require a £250 issue fee and a £950 hearing fee.

There is a system in place which allows individuals to apply for remission of these fees. The system is means tested and involves a consideration of an individual’s income and savings.  

Report’s findings

The report acknowledges that there has been a “sharp, significant and sustained fall” in Tribunal claims following the introduction of fees in 2013. The report suggests that in many cases this is a positive outcome and they point to anincrease in people using the ACAS conciliation service to resolve their disputes. They do however recognise that some people have been discouraged from bringing a claim in the tribunal because of the fee system currently in place.

To try and address some of these concerns the report has recommended a number of changes:

  • Extend access to the remission scheme by increasing the monthly income threshold to a level broadly the same as someone earning the National Living Wage.
  • Exclude any claims relating to payments from the National Insurance Fund from fees.

Comment

Whilst the changes are to be welcomed, they are unlikely to have any significant impact on tribunal users. In my experience the fee remission system is confusing, drawn-out and badly administered and extending its reach is likely to only compound these issues. In my opinion the only way to open up access to the tribunal system is to remove or at least reduce the level of fees. As outlined above, to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim an employee who does not qualify for remission will be looking at fees of up to £1200 which represents a significant and in lots of cases insurmountable hurdle. Whilst there are employees who benefit from legal expenses insurance cover in my experience insurers will only reimburse the cost of issue and hearing fees on conclusion of the case which means individuals are still having to find the money themselves to pursue their claim.

The Government appears somewhat entrenched in its position to retain tribunal fees despite growing evidence of the detrimental impact it has had on tribunal users. It will therefore be very interesting to see what view the Supreme Court takes when they consider UNISON’s judicial review challenge of the fee system which is due to be heard on 27th and 28th March 2017.