Breaking news today from the Supreme Court, who have decided that employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013 are unlawful as they prevented access to justice and breached UK and EU law.
The case was taken to the Supreme Court ultimately by Unison who have fought this long and hard, but now successful battle. Many of the employees who have paid fees to take their employer to tribunal will now need to be refunded. The government will have to now pay out a whopping £27 million. Before July 2013 employees could take their employer to a tribunal without charge, but this changed in 2013 when fees topping £1200 were introduced for claims related to unfair dismissal and discrimination. This has lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of claims being lodged – 78% in three years. The reduction has probably been due to a lack of affordability by many employees unable to do anything about any potential unfair illegal treatment at work. If someone was unfairly dismissed they would more than likely not have the funds to take a claim having lost their job and income. This would be particularly relevant to employees with a with low or middle income.
Time will tell how the government will tackle the need to make changes. Whilst the Supreme Court has indicated employment tribunals should be free, tribunal fees may not be completely abolished but may perhaps be vastly reduced. The government will probably organise a consultation exercise before implementing any changes to fees.
In July 2013 the government introduced a mandatory one month ACAS conciliation period which has helped to resolve approximately 90% of cases without going to an employment tribunal. This process will probably still be retained as it appears to have been very successful in helping to reduce the thousands and thousands of claims that used to swamp the employment tribunal system.
Nevertheless, it seems that this barrier to justice will now be removed so law-breaking employers should beware.