The Supreme Court’s ruling that the present Employment Tribunal fee structure is unlawful follows a long and painful battle between Unison and the Government. This will undoubtedly be received well by some; seen as a victory for employees and the workers’ rights to justice. However, others (employers, businesses) may see this as a step backwards and a reason to be concerned. But, what does it mean?
Bluntly, the future of tribunal fees is yet to be decided. In the immediate term, there will be no fees in the Employment Tribunal however, this decision now needs to be followed by proposals from the government on how it will restructure the system to bring it in line with the law. One option is to abolish fees altogether however, most commentators (including us) suggest that fees are unlikely to disappear entirely. It will also be interesting to see if this has a knock on effect on the fairly recent hike in county court fees as similar access to justice arguments have be made.
In an nutshell, it is too early to tell what fees we will have in the future (so we will update you when we know). However, one issue that cannot be ignored is the decision that the government will have to repay all fees paid into the Employment Tribunal system since it started in 2013. By any standards, this is likely to be an administrative nightmare for the government.
For employers, our advice is not to panic. Good employment practice should continue to address most complaints and keep businesses out of tribunal. However, we are aware that some companies have hidden behind the Employment Tribunal fees system. In these cases, they have relied on the costs of an employment tribunal to discourage their worker from bringing a claim and therefore, hiding their poor practice. If fees go, or are certainly decreased to a material extent, these employers will need to rethink their approach.