Following the High Court’s dismissal of Unison’s challenge to the employment tribunal fees before the Christmas break, Citizens Advice has released figures which appear to support the trade union’s claim.
Unison, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening, brought their challenge on the basis that the cost of bringing claims to the employment tribunal, which range between £360 for simple claims and £1200 for unfair dismissal and discrimination claims, was ‘prohibitive’ and indirectly discriminated against women, ethnic minorities and the disabled. Unison argued that not only were the fees too high, but they had only been introduced in order to make money.
Elias LJ, however, responded that imposing a fee so that users contribute to the running costs of employment tribunal was a legitimate aim. The court was equally unconvinced by the statistics Unison cited, finding that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ that the introduction of fees caused the reduction in number of claims. Foskett J stated it was ‘speculative’ to assume that the reduction in number of claims was the direct result of the introduction of fees and went on to say that ‘before a court could begin to act it would need to be satisfied that a more than minimal number of people with arguably legitimate claims would find it virtually impossible or excessively difficult’ to bring claims as a result of the fees.
Unison’s general secretary, David Prentis, responded to the ruling, calling it ‘disappointing’ and stating that Unison plan to appeal the decision, as they would ‘do everything possible to ensure that the punitive fees’ are ‘abolished’.
The Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) poll may provide some of the data required to support the appeal. The results of the poll of 361 CAB clients revealed that 82% of those asked were put off by the fees, although 90% would be happy to pay a fee of £50 to bring their claim. The fees were currently so high that 47% of claimants would have to save 100% of their disposable income for six months in order to be able to afford the fees for an unfair dismissal claim. The CAB had therefore called on the government to review the fees and bring them in line with county court fees. They also suggested that the government make the availability of fee remissions more widely known, as only 29% of clients were aware of the system. Furthermore, half of those who believed they were not eligible would, in fact, have been eligible for fee remission.
The CAB research also suggested that the government’s justification of the fees as a deterrent to vexatious and weak claims was not supported by the data. The number of cases won by claimants had reduced over the last two years and was now below 60%, suggesting that it was those with strong claims, rather than weak ones, that had been deterred by the fees.
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