It’s finally happened – as of Monday 29th July, it will cost you a few quid to put in a claim to an employment tribunal (the issue fee), and a few more quid to have your claim heard (the hearing fee). So how much will it cost – in more ways than one?
There are two levels of fees, and if you don’t cough up then your claim will be filed under ‘B’ for Bin – the sanction for non-payment is the case will not be allowed to continue (but more on avoiding payment later). Straightforward claims such as unlawful deduction from wages, notice pay and redundancy pay will set you back £160 for the issue fee and £230 for the hearing fee (type A), whereas the fees for most other claims (e.g. unfair dismissal, discrimination, whistleblowing and equal pay ) will be a tad more pricey, at £250 and £950 respectively (type B). These are based on individual claims – there are economies of scale for group claims (kind of buy 2, get up to 8 free) and there are additional fees for EATs. Check the guidance on the Employment Tribunals website for full details.
It’s clear that the main reasons for introducing the fees is to reduce the cost burden of the tribunal system, and to reduce the number of weak or vexatious claims – indeed, those two aims are intrinsically interlinked, given the volume of the latter. My two pet professional hates, in no particular order, are unscrupulous employers who treat employees badly, and rogue employees who play the tribunal game for their own aims, whether motivated by vengeance, finances or just sheer mindedness. Anyone with the required eligibility (if needed) can claim anything they like within the basis of the law, but don’t have to do a fat lot to back it up as the onus is on the respondent to disprove the claim. Sadly the more malicious claims there are, the more the system is under strain and the harder it is for genuine claims to get the attention and service (or indeed the credibility) they deserve.
It’s clear then that having fees could help reduce this. But as with all things, there will be some casualties. So now we have the anticipated grumbles that some genuine claimants will lose out as they won’t be able to afford the fees – notably part-time and low-paid workers, most of whom are women, minorities etc. In fact, Unison has legally challenged the fees– this hasn’t prevented the fees going ahead, but if successful then any paid out will be reimbursed. (That said, I wouldn’t hold your breath since Unison’s request for a judicial review has already taken a tumble at the first hurdle.)
But do they really have much of a case? The issue fee has to be paid at the same time as lodging the claim, but if you’re in a church mouse situation with barely two buttons to rub together you can submit a Fee Remission application instead, as it is essentially a means-tested system. So if you can prove you receive certain benefits (such as Income Support, Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance) or have a gross annual income of under £13000 for a child-free singleton (more if you are in a couple or have kids), you could be exempt. Again, check online for full details.
So while in principle it may not feel right to put a price on justice, in practice I personally feel it is the right thing to do. I’ve dealt with various claims in my time, both for the claimant and the respondent, and seen many that have clearly been lodged in a fit of pique – revenge for being kicked to the kerb, or for a perceived detriment, and the claimant is determined to be a thorn in their employer’s side regardless of financial gain. Even if the claims aren’t successful (as vexatious claims rarely are), there is still a significant cost to the respondent, as well as to the tribunal system as a whole. In fact many claimants lodge a weak claim purely in the hope that their employer will settle, i.e. throw them a few quid to shut up and go away just to avoid the time, effort and disruption that a hearing will inevitably lead to. And the only reason a disgruntled claimant could do this is because it didn’t cost them any money, only time and energy (and if they’d just lost their job, then they had plenty of both to spare).
Not that respondents are always the victim by any means – I’ve also come across plenty of dodgy employers who quite frankly deserve a good butt-kicking in a tribunal. But in order for that justice to be done, the claims that are an unnecessary (and unethical) drain on already-stretched resources need to be whittled down, and I would expect fees to be as good a way as any to do that. True, there will undoubtedly be some valid claimants that are also put off by the fees, but that’s what a fee remission form is for!
So while I’m sure that this reform will continue to cause a ruckus, IMHO it’s about time – it will be interesting to see how the ET statistics are affected and what they show over the next few years!