At the start of the year, interim figures released regarding the number of employment tribunal claims already indicated a further drop when compared to the previous years. Today, the Ministry of Justice has issued its annual report, identifying its final analysis of trends and statistics during the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

Summary of the key findings

  • A 15% fall in the number of claims.
  • A 19% reduction in multiple claims.
  • The largest single category of claims related to unfair dismissal, breach of contract and redundancy (31% of claims), a small rise of 1% on last years’ figures.
  • Working Time cases fell to second place in terms of case numbers (at 29%) as the airline cases which had boosted the figures previously, start to decline.
  • Deductions from wages claims fell by 3% to account for 16% of cases.
  • An ongoing downward trend was reflected in all types of discrimination claims, apart from disability discrimination claims which saw a rise of 6.5%. Age discrimination claims dropped by nearly half.
  • Complaints that employers have failed to consult properly rose in the context of redundancy consultation (7.5%) but showed significant increase in the context of business transfers and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006. Failure to carry out proper consultation in this latter context rose by over 25%, reversing the decline in such claims in recent years.
  • With the notable exceptions of sexual orientation and age discrimination claims, which saw a doubling in median awards (rising to £13,505 and £6,065, respectively) the majority of median awards remained reasonably static.
  • Significantly, the number of costs awards made to respondents rose by over 350%. The highest award of costs was £36,466.

Comment

With a next wave of employment law changes having been announced by the Government just last week, many of which are aimed at reducing the number of tribunal claims, it is hoped that year on year the number of claims will continue to decline. Spikes in certain types of claim, particularly multiple claims, as we have seen with equal pay and the airline cases, could potentially skew annual figures from time to time and a degree of fluctuation is inevitable. Legal change, of course, also gives rise to new types of claim: for example, questions such as what is and is not a “protected conversation” will inevitably prompt court consideration in the months come. Even so, it seems apparent that the overall trend is most certainly downwards.

One cannot ignore also the effects of the April changes to the qualifying period for bringing an unfair dismissal claims, extending that period from 1 to 2 years. Since unfair dismissal claims account for a third of all claims, the postponing effect on next years’ figures is likely to be significant.

The large rise in failure to consult claims, particularly where a business transfer is involved, is significant, not least since such claims had seen consecutive reductions in recent years. The Government has only just published its Response to a Call for Evidence in respect of the current 2006 TUPE Regulations and is preparing to issue a consultation on specific proposals for change. No doubt this sudden increase is something which will be reviewed as part of that consultation process.  

On a more positive note, both the Government and ACAS will be heartened by the fact that more claims than ever are being conciliated through ACAS. They clearly have a vital role to play in the number of tribunal claims in the future, once pre-conciliation becomes a first stage of proceedings. Providing adequate resource is available and parties embrace the opportunity this presents, future annual reports on employment tribunal statistics could look very different.