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UK NEWS

Tribunal fees deemed unlawful

Oct 01, 2017
On 26 July, 2017 The Supreme Court quashed the government’s system of fees for employment tribunals.

The case was taken by the UNISON trade union, which successfully argued that the fees – which can be as high as £1,200 per case — prevented many workers from gaining justice at work. The government will now have to repay up to £32 million to claimants.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a massive win for working people. Congratulations to UNISON for doggedly pursuing this case. Today’s result shows the value of working people standing together in trade unions. Too many low-paid workers couldn’t afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they’ve faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly.”

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: "The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong - not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too. These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up. We'll never know how many people missed out because they couldn't afford the expense of fees."

Tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013. Their purpose was to create better balance in the system, allowing employees to bring legitimate cases, whilst reducing the huge legal and administrative burden that allows well-meaning employers to be unfairly pursued by former employees with spurious claims.

The danger is that removing the fees will increase the number of speculative claims so that all claims will take longer to come to court. This will clog up the system and mean legitimate claimants will have to wait longer for compensation. In 2013, when the fees were introduced, there was a backlog of over 600,000 tribunal cases awaiting hearing.

Since then official statistics show that the number of cases taken by workers has dropped by nearly 70%. TUC research shows that this fall was especially high in cases involving part-time work rules (-83%), sexual orientation discrimination (-75%), and unauthorised deductions from wages (-78%).

Paul Mander, from Penningtons Manches LLP, said that Lady Hale’s judgment confirmed that in any event the fees were indirectly discriminatory due to the higher fee for certain types such as proscribed discrimination and those typically brought by women - such as unfair dismissal due to pregnancy. “The Supreme Court has not yet set out remedies, but the government had given an earlier undertaking to repay all fees if they were found to be unlawful and has since confirmed that it will do so,” he said. “It remains to be seen if the government will seek to introduce an alternative fee regime. In the interim, the number of employment tribunal claims is expected to rise.”

Photo: Fees were introduced to reduce the number of spurious claims and encourage legitimate ones.

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