A much anticipated government report into how tribunal fees are affecting the volume of tribunal cases instigated by UK workers has at last been published, and, as suspected, it shows a major decline has occurred since the introduction of the fee system in July 2013. This follows a TUC report issued last year that also showed serious failings by the fee system.
Without access to a fair hearing, workers have instead explored other means of expression. The report details how the ACAS conciliation service has seen a major rise in workers contacting them for advice on various employment disputes over the past four years. This reveals that a third party outlet where workers can express their concerns is clearly needed.
Unison trade union has condemned the current system as ‘ill-judged’ and believes it has fallen short of its goal of saving taxpayer money by reducing the number of false claims put forward each year. In actuality the system has only served to make those seeking justice for genuine grievances less likely to reach out for help due to excessive costs.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, expressed support for the report findings: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision […] 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.”
The report also recorded how a significant decrease in claims occurred between 2012-14, which is well below the numbers expected. There was a 70% drop from 5,847 to 1,740 cases recorded.
Most troubling of all is the kind of cases that have diminished. Disability discrimination cases are down 51%, race discrimination hearings have fallen by 55%, and sex discrimination cases have dropped 71%. Statistics show that low-paid women have been the group to have suffered more than any other under the fee system.
Increasingly there are calls for current tribunal fees, which can be as high as £950, to be altered. One of the most vocal opponents is Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of TUC, who states:
“Charging people up to £1,200 to take claim has been a gift to Britain’s worse bosses. And it’s allowed discrimination at work to flourish unchallenged. Until the government commits to abolishing fees, its commitment to ‘improve workers rights’ in post-Brexit Britain looks pretty hollow.”
Reacting to the report, ministers have already made a list of suggested alterations in a bid to ensure all workers make their voices heard across Britain, regardless of their background or financial status.
Among these proposals is a monthly threshold for a full fee remission rise, from £1,085 to £1,250. This is an amount that better reflects the income of workers earning the national living wage. Other suggestions include giving financial assistance to workers who live with a partner and/or children .
Leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, has expressed his organisation’s feelings towards the report: “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.
In contrast to those who seek an outright removal of the fee system, Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald reacted to the report’s findings with a mixed opinion:
Sir Heald also revealed that to prevent the loss of tribunal hearings, the existing Help With Fees system will henceforth receive greater government support, and that a green paper will be issued to establish the legal rights involved.
Unison plans to challenge the fee system in a hearing before the Supreme Court on 27 and 28 March 2017.