Statistics published yesterday by the UK Ministry of Justice confirm a sustained reduction in the number of single employment tribunal claims lodged since the fees regime was introduced in 2013, and suggest that compulsory early conciliation, which has applied since May 2014, is contributing to that reduction. The government will be analysing the statistics in detail over coming months as part of its review of the fees regime, which began yesterday and is expected to continue for several months.

The statistics: a summary

The number of ‘single’ claims received in January to March 2015 was 4,229, which is 25% fewer than in the same period in 2014. Overall, there were 16,456 ‘single’ claims received in the 2014/15 financial year, a decrease of 52% on 2013/14 (the year in which fees were introduced). ‘Single claims’ are those made by a sole employee/worker, which can be contrasted with ‘multiple claims’, where two or more people bring proceedings arising out of the same facts, usually against the same employer. Single claims provide the more reliable gauge of the impact of fees and early conciliation.

The reduction in claims suggests that early conciliation is encouraging some parties to resolve disputes without going to tribunal. However, it is clear that fees remain responsible for deterring many claimants who might otherwise have brought a claim, with the number of claims lodged in January to March 2015 being two-thirds lower than the figure for the same period in 2013 (before fees were introduced).

In contrast to single claims, the number of multiple claims has risen. The number of multiple claims received in January to March 2015 was 16,104, three times the number compared to the same quarter last year. Over all in the first quarter of this year there were 649 groups of multiple claims, up 49% over the same time period last year. This is a significant, yet unsurprising, increase and is due, in the main, to a large volume of holiday pay claims brought following rulings in the Bear Scotland and Lock cases and the government’s decision to limit back pay claims from July this year. The figures also reflect a significant number of equal pay claims against large retailers.

The statistics also reveal that the number of claims dismissed under the new ‘sift’ process introduced two years ago is negligible. The aim of the rule change was to weed out weak claims at an early stage. However, the latest statistics call into question whether the rule change has been effective.

Judicial review proceedings

In the meantime, UNISON’s legal challenge to the fees regime continues this month with an appeal against the High Court’s rejection of their judicial review proceedings. The appeal will be heard on 16 or 17 June, although a decision is unlikely until the Autumn.

Government review

In a further development, the Government announced yesterday that its long-promised review of the fees and remission schemes has now started and is expected to continue until late this year. Clearly, the judicial review proceedings will influence the outcome of the review but even if Unison’s challenge is unsuccessful a reduction in fees could still be on the cards. Although the election has delivered a Conservative government, with deregulation high on its agenda, even some employer groups have acknowledged that the current level of fees is too high. Furthermore, if fees are not reduced, the SNP is more likely to press for control over tribunal fees in Scotland to be passed to the Scottish Parliament as part of the further devolution plans.

The review could also result in other changes to the Employment Tribunal system, as the government has said it will look at making ‘recommendations for streamlining procedures to reduce costs.’ What, exactly, this means remains to be seen, although one option that may be under consideration is for some cases to be disposed of on paper, without a hearing.