Following a year of significant change, the recently published Tribunals’ Annual Report revealed a number of key trends in the Employment Tribunals.

Last year was the first full year to feel the effects of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunal. It was also the year in which the ACAS Early Conciliation scheme was introduced; initially on a voluntary basis in April and then a mandatory basis from May.

The principal effect of ACAS Early Conciliation has been that the prospective claimant in almost all claims in the Employment Tribunal is now required to contact ACAS before a claim can be brought. Provision has been made to effectively “stop the clock” on the time limits for bringing a claim while the conciliation process is ongoing.Preliminary figures indicate that Early Conciliation has led to a 22% fall in claims brought, excluding the effect of tribunal fees.

The effects of the introduction of tribunal fees have been controversial, and therefore well publicised, due to concerns about the perceived threat to access to justice. Employment Tribunals have reported an 81% fall in the number of claims, in particular unfair dismissal and payment related claims.

The enforcement of Employment Tribunal awards was also addressed in the Report following research conducted for the Department of Business Innovation & Skills. The research, which was conducted before the introduction of tribunal fees, interviewed 1,200 claimants who had been successful in at least part of their claims and had therefore been made an award by an Employment Tribunal. The study showed that only 49% received their awards in full while 35% of claimants had received no money at all as at the final deadline for payment. There is therefore a significant enforcement problem and it has been argued that this, together with the introduction of fees, may be another reason contributing to the sharp decline in the number of claims brought.

In the run up to the election, it will be interesting to see if any of the political parties make an issue of tribunal fees and the problems of enforcement in their manifestos.