The Government has published its long awaited review on the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees and concluded that, although there are some areas of concern, as a whole the fee system has met its objectives and will not be repealed.
This will come as welcome news to most employers, given that it creates an additional hurdle to individuals choosing to pursue Employment Tribunal claims.
Since the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2013 there has been much controversy over whether the fees are affecting access to justice.
On 31 January, the Government published its review of the introduction of fees. This review was initially meant to be published in the summer of 2014.
Although the report acknowledges that there has been a significantly greater fall in claims than expected (a 70% drop), the Government does not accept that the introduction of fees has affected access to justice, concluding instead that although people may have been discouraged from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so as a result of the introduction of fees.
However, the Government did acknowledge that there are some areas of concern:
- Help with fees - the Government has launched a consultation on whether the fee remission scheme (whereby fees are waived for those on low incomes) should be made easier to use with the lower gross monthly income threshold raised. The Government's proposals, if implemented, would set the gross monthly income threshold for a fee remission at broadly the level of someone earning the National Living Wage.
- National Insurance Fund - the Government has confirmed that proceedings relating to payments from the National Insurance Fund ie. payments for redundancy pay involving insolvent employers where conciliation is not a realistic option, should be exempt from the fee regime.
Accordingly, the Government's review will not result in the removal of the fee system but will extend the means tested scheme for individuals to seek remission.
The debate around fees potentially has a lower impact where individuals are funded by trade unions as unions will usually meet the fees but it does mean that cases that they support are subject to greater scrutiny.
This may not be the end of the story as the Supreme Court is due to hear UNISON's judicial challenge to the fee system on 27 and 28 March and the outcome of this will be awaited with interest.