In July 2013 the Government introduced fees in the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeals Tribunal. The intention was to reduce the number of claims being made by individuals. One of the reasons it gave was that fees would act as a disincentive to unreasonable behaviour, such as pursuing weak or vexatious claims. The other stated intention was to transfer the cost burden of Tribunals from the taxpayer to those that benefitted from using them.
The effects however were greater than the government anticipated and they resulted in the average number of cases falling from around 5000 to 1500 a month. The government also managed to successfully generate income of around £8.5m to £9.5m a year totalling approximately £32m since fees were introduced.
The changes didn’t however result in a reduction in weak or unmeritorious claims. Had this been the case one would have expected the percentage of successful claims to have increased, whereas in fact it actually declined slightly.
UNISON sought to challenge the lawfulness of the decision to introduce fees arguing that amongst other things, it prevented access to justice for many who could not afford to pay the fees referring to the near 70% decline in cases being issued.
On the 26th July 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously allowed UNISON’s appeal declaring that the introduction of fees did indeed deny many people access to justice. This was a momentous decision for many and probably one of the most important employment cases for many years effectively schooling the government on the purpose of allowing society access to justice and the need to avoid putting up barriers to workers enforcing their rights which would otherwise render those rights meaningless words.
Following the decision of the Supreme Court there were many predictions about how it would affect the number of claims being brought in the future. From personal experience we have witnessed a gradual increase in the number of employment tribunal cases being pursued against clients over the last 6 months to the point where we are now experiencing high volumes of tribunal related instructions from clients. Last week we were also informed during a conversation with an ACAS Conciliator that the service is currently recruiting additional Conciliators due to experiencing a large increase in Early Conciliation requests (as a Claimant you need to follow this process before you can issue your claim in the tribunal).
Perhaps the clearest sign of the increase in claims to date however can be seen in the tribunal quarterly statistics for the period July to September 2017 published by the Ministry of Justice yesterday which report that since the same period in 2016, the number of claims lodged by a single applicant have increased by 64%, which is the highest for four years.
It looks as though we are witnessing an increase in the number of claims being issued in the tribunal as a result of the Supreme Court's decision and 2018 is looking like it is going to be a busy year for anyone who has responsibility for managing HR within their organisation with claims expected to return to pre-2013 levels.
Government's employment tribunal fees are 'illegal', Supreme Court rules