The government last week announced its long-awaited review of Employment Tribunal fees to find out whether it has achieved its supposed objectives.
The original goals were threefold: transfer some of the costs from the taxpayer to Tribunal users; encourage alternative ways of resolving disputes; and maintain access to justice.
The review will gather evidence on a range of issues, including data and research on:
- the take up of alternative dispute resolution services, including the numbers of people using the Acas conciliation services and the impact of mandatory notification of a dispute
- the volumes of claims received and how cases progress in the Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeals Tribunal, including outcomes - settlements and withdrawals, and cases determined by a substantive hearing
- data on fee remissions, including applications made, applications granted and applications refused
- financial information, including income received from fees, the costs (including implementation costs) incurred in setting up systems to charge and collect the fees and savings delivered
- the characteristics of those who use Tribunals and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, in particular users with protected characteristics; and
- other research, both government and external evidence, relevant to resolving workplace disputes.
Once the review is complete, the government has said it will make recommendations for any changes to the structure and level of fees for proceedings in tribunals and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, including “recommendations for streamlining procedures to reduce costs”.
Fees were introduced by the previous government in July 2013, which it justified on the basis that they would reduce the taxpayer subsidy to the tribunal system and deter frivolous claims. The most obvious and immediate impact was a steep drop in the number of cases being brought by claimants, as evidenced by research by the House of Commons Library in January 2015 (see LELR 403).
Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors commented: “The three main features of this review are that: (1) the government doesn’t actually want to do it (it was a coalition promise to get Liberal Democrat support on fees, and has probably only been announced now so that the government does not have to explain to the Court of Appeal why there wasn’t a review at this week’s judicial review on fees); (2) there does not appear to be any intention to consult with users and stakeholders about their experiences of fees; and (3) because there are no clear success criteria the government is unrestrained by clear objective criteria and can measure success in purely political and economic terms. None of this makes for much cause to be optimistic at this stage.
To read the terms of reference in full, go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/434207/tor-employment-tribunal-fees.pdf