Following its announcement last month that the first people eligible for a refund of tribunal fees could apply, the government has now opened up the scheme to everyone who is eligible.
This means that anyone who paid a fee to bring a case at an employment tribunal or the Employment Appeal Tribunal between 29 July 2013 and 26 July 2017 can now apply online if:
- they haven’t changed their name since they made the claim to the tribunal
- the claim was against one employer
- they have a UK bank account.
Otherwise, they can apply by post or email stating how much they paid in tribunal fees.
The decision to refund fees followed a decision by the Supreme Court earlier this year that the government order introducing tribunal fees in July 2013 prevented access to justice and discriminated against women. It was therefore unlawful and had to be quashed.
However, the story does not end there as the Lord Chancellor made clear to the justice select committee when he appeared before them last month that the government still intends to charge fees as a contribution towards costs but also as a “deterrent to frivolous or vexatious litigation.”
Indeed, according to the Lord Chancellor, the key lesson that the government has taken away from the judgment is that fees are “a reasonable way in which to secure a contribution towards the running costs of the courts and tribunals service, but that in setting the level of fees, the government need to have very careful regard to questions of access and affordability.”
Iain Birrell, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “It is true that the Supreme Court did not say that fees were unlawful per se, but one wonders just how attentive the government has been.”
“The government was totally schooled by the Supreme Court on the importance to society of an accessible and functioning justice system and any new fees regime will need very careful planning. The current Lord Chancellor is held in higher regard than his recent ideologue predecessors, but that is a tall order and any proposals will be fiercely scrutinised. It therefore seems a false start to bang on about vexatious claimants again.”
“A vexatious claim has a specific meaning, and is not just one that the employer disagrees with; it is genuinely meritless and harassing. They do exist, but the numbers were always grossly exaggerated by the business lobby. The evidence of four years of excessive and unlawful fees shows that there is no correlation between fees and vexatious claims, and this is a discredited and hackneyed justification. As such it is a worrying sign that ideology may have the edge over evidence and reason in Whitehall once again.”