Fees have been a controversial subject with employers’ groups claiming that there were too many nuisance claims before fees, and unions and other employee bodies claiming that fees have reduced access to justice.
What is not in dispute is that within one year of the introduction of fees the total number of single claims fell by 66%. Since then there has been an increase in the total number of claims accepted from 61,308 in 2014/15 to 83,031 in 2015/16 but this is still 43% down on the number of claims before fees were introduced.
In the past 12 month there have been recommendations by the House of Commons Justice Committee that the level of fees should be reduced and the trade union Unison has brought a judicial review challenging introduction of fees. This legal challenge has failed in the lower courts so far, but has now been appealed to the Supreme Court where it is due to be heard in March 2017.
So what did the Government review find? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has concluded that the introduction of fees has broadly met its objectives because:
- tribunal users are contributing between £8.5 million and £9 million a year to the court system in fee income
- more people are now using the free ACAS Early Conciliation service as opposed to the numbers who used the voluntary conciliation service before it became mandatory for those seeking to bring a claim
The review states that: “While there is clear evidence that ET fees have discouraged people from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so”.
The government acknowledged ACAS figures identifying a group of between 3,000 and 8,000 people who were unable to resolve their dispute at the Early Conciliation Stage and did not proceed to issue a claim as they could not afford to pay the fees. To address this they propose to make changes to the system of fee remission (i.e. means testing) but it is clear that they intend that fees are here to stay. Minal Backhouse is currently sitting on the Employment Lawyers Association consultative committee which will be making submissions to the Government on this subject over the coming weeks.
The Backhouse Solicitors Team
Tel: 01245 893400