Supreme Court rules employment tribunal fees to be unlawful

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The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that employment tribunal fees are unlawful.

Since 2013, employees in the UK who have disputes with their employers have had to pay fees in order to take their case to an employment tribunal. The charges range from £160 for smaller disputes such as issuing a claim for lost wages, or up to £1,200 for more serious claims including unfair dismissal. Following the introduction of these charges, employment tribunals have seen a 79% drop in the number of cases since 2013.

The Supreme Court made its decision on the grounds that the fees were “inconsistent with access to justice” as evidenced by the dramatic fall in cases. As a result of this decision, the government has promised to cease charging fees with immediate effect. It will also reimburse those employees that have had to pay employment tribunal fees since 2013, with the bill likely to reach £32 million.

Unison, a public services union, were the campaigners that brought the case to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the risk of paying the fee but not receiving compensation from the tribunal was putting off employees with perfectly valid complaints from seeking justice.

Why did we have employment tribunal fees in the first place?

The fees were first introduced in 2013 by Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor during the coalition, in a bid to reduce the number of ‘weak’ employment claims with apparently low prospects of success, which were said to be ‘clogging’ the tribunals system.

The fees varied depending on the type of claim brought forward. Smaller cases such as unpaid wages, redundancy pay and breaches of contracts cost around £160 to issue (file the papers with the tribunal) with an additional £230 for the hearing itself. Larger cases which generally took longer due to the complexity and length of the hearings, such as unfair dismissal, cost around £250 to issue, with a hearing fee of £950. These fees resulted in a significant drop in cases, including in cases such as maternity discrimination.

What does this mean for employment tribunals in the future?

Moving forward, employees now have the right to bring a dispute to tribunal without having to pay fees. This will especially help those that have lost their job and those that have had difficulty in the past bringing cases such as unfair dismissal to trial.

The government has yet to announce exactly how it will reimburse those who have previously paid the fees. Until they produce more detail, as employment solicitors, we will have to wait before advising clients on their rights.

Samantha Castle, employment lawyer comments on how this will affect cases moving forward, “For people who have lost their job or employees on low incomes, this has been a welcome change in the law and one that has been needed for some time. This change will enable workers to have the right to a fair tribunal and justice, and not be hindered by costs. Those that brought cases to tribunal since 2013, will have their fees reimbursed which is another win for those on low incomes.”

Further information

For more information on employee rights and tribunals, visit our employment section. To speak to an expert employment solicitor in Bristol or South Gloucestershire, call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our 
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