Before July 2013, an individual looking to pursue claims in the Employment Tribunal could do so without paying any court fees. That changed following a consultation by the then coalition Government in 2011, where it was decided that fees would be introduced.
Since then, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of employment tribunal claims issued. Concerns have been raised as to whether the introduction of fees has restricted access to justice. In 2015, the Government stated that they would carry out a review of the system and publish their findings. In the meantime, the House of Commons Justice Committee has published its own report on the fee system, making a number of observations:
- The Committee was very critical of the fact that the Government had failed to publish their own findings on this subject and urged them to publish these as soon as possible.
- They stated that the fee remission system, which enables those who meet certain criteria to exempt themselves from paying fees, was overly complicated and restrictive.
- There appeared to be a bit of confusion as to what the principal policy reasons for introducing fees were. The stated reasons were financial, behavioural (namely encouraging parties to resolve workplace dispute through alternative means) and maintaining access to justice. However, there have been claims from the Government that the introduction of fees has reduced the number of vexatious claims, not one of their original stated aims, for which there is little supporting evidence.
- The Committee made clear that while they did not object to the idea of court fees generally, these should not impinge upon access to justice. Where there is a conflict between the objectives of achieving cost-recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail.
The Committee has made a number of recommendations in their report, including:
- the overall fees charged for bringing cases to employment tribunals should be substantially reduced. The report suggests a fee of around £50;
- increasing the income thresholds for fee remission, and no more than one fee remission application should be required, covering both the issue fee and the prospective hearing fee with the threshold for exemption calculated on the assumption that both fees will be paid;
- further special consideration should be given to the position of women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination, for whom, at the least, the time limit of three months for bringing a claim should be reviewed.
As well as the above, there is an outstanding appeal brought by Unison alleging that the fees are in fact unlawful for which the Committee’s report could be useful. And the Scottish parliament has indicated that they intend to abolish fees altogether.
Could there be changes afoot? Watch this space.