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/ 27 Jul 2015

Employment Tribunals – Fees and the Qualifying period for unfair dismissal

Issue fees and hearing fees: single claimants

The issue fee payable by a single claimant is:
• Type A claim: £160.
• Type B claim: £250.

The hearing fee payable by a single claimant is:
• Type A claim: £230.
• Type B claim: £950.

Occasions when an employer will need to pay a fee is:
• a counterclaim to an employee’s breach of contract claim
• when the parties agree to enter into judicial mediation,

For those who cannot afford to pay, fee waivers are available
When Employment Tribunal were set up in 1964, the main aim was to enable ordinary workers access to justice. Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta, which is the Charter of the Liberties, stated: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice”. As such, the introduction of the fee regime in both employment tribunals and employment appeal tribunals on 29 July 2013, goes against the grain of the original aims and principles of equity and justice.

The number of employment tribunal cases has plummeted. For example
• Discrimination claims fell by around 80%
• Sex discrimination by 91% in the last year,
• 85% fall in the number of claims for unpaid wages,
• 62% drop in unfair dismissal cases

The unions and other organisations are concerned that genuine claims are not be-ing presented as the fees act as a deterrent for employees in taking employers to court. There have been two attempts by the trades union UNISON on the grounds that the level of fees breached European Union principles of “effectiveness and equivalence. The courts did not entertain the application by the union on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of individuals being disadvantaged. The union is intending to have another go at getting the fee system modified greatly when the next quarter statistics are published by the Ministry of Justice in March 2015.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills policy, said:
“Businesses have been pressing for reform of the tribunals system for many years. It needs to be simpler, faster and more effective at weeding out weak or vexatious claims. But we don’t believe the Government’s current proposals will be effective when it comes to deterring weak claims. The Government needs to find a new bal-ance of fees and remissions to create the improved tribunal system businesses are seeking. We do not want weaker cases to get in the way of those that deserve a fair hearing. If a lower overall fee means everyone at least pays something, then busi-nesses would support this”.
It appears that the Government is taking steps to pre-empt the challenge by the un-ion, and has given assurances that it will review the tribunal fees. Watch this space!

The two year qualifying period
It is also to be noted that the decline in the number of Tribunal claims had been steadily declining since the qualifying period to make a claim for unfair dismissal was extended from one to two years as from 6 April 2012.

The Conservative government took similar steps in 1985 to increase the qualifying period to two years. Following the legislative changes, a challenge was pursued by Ms Nicole Seymour-Smith and Ms Perez against the Secretary of State for Employment that the United Kingdom’s qualifying period of two years for unfair dismissal amounted to indirect sex discrimination, article 119 and the Equal Treatment Directive. The case was referred to the ECJ, and the test relied upon was whether the test for disparate impact would be borne out by evidence, including statistics and the relevant time was whether a “lesser but persistent and relatively constant disparity” would exist. The answer was “that if a considerably smaller percentage of women than men is capable of fulfilling the requirement of two years’ employment imposed by the disputed rule, it is for the Member State, as the author of the allegedly discriminatory rule, to show that the said rule reflects a legitimate aim of its social policy, that that aim is unrelated to any discrimination based on sex, and that it could reasonably consider that the means chosen were suitable for attaining that aim”.

Both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, [R (Seymour-Smith) v Secretary of State for Employment [2000] UKHL 12] held that under the Equal Treatment Directive, a two-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal was indirectly discriminatory, and the Secretary of State for Employment had failed to prove that there was an objective justification for the disparate impact. In any event, before the conclusion of the litigation, in 1999, the newly elected Labour Government reduced the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from two years to one year.The qualifying period was increased to two years again from April 2012 and this is the current position.

Decrease in tribunal cases
Tribunal fees, coupled with the increase in qualifying period, has had a dramatic effect on workers being able to access the right to a legal recourse. It is recognised by business representative that such a deterrent policy is not conducive to good industrial relations in the workplace.

Rashmi Chopra

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