Employment Tribunal Fees: Latest Survey Shows 4 of 5 Deterred From Filing Claim” was the title of our post on December 24th, and it described the tribunal fees required to open the door to the tribunal to have an employment dispute adjudicated, and a survey which found that the fee was a major deterrent to a vast majority of would-be charging parties.

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UK readers expressed very strong opinions — on both sides of the fee issue.  A sample is published below.

Prof. Stephen Whittle, UK:

“I have been teaching for 20 years that the Tribunal system is stacked against the disadvantaged – the less articulate, the poor, the unrepresented- and to lose your job and income, and then be told to find hard cash to fight an employer who for example; has not paid your final wages is a complete travesty of justice.

One of the people featured in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau report lost her job, and then was underpaid £320 in her final wages, but was required to pay out £430 in order to take a claim to court. We have a government made up of multi-millionaires, who have no idea what it is like to struggle to pay the gas bill, never mind fight for Justice.”

Adrian Clarke, an employment relations advisor in Peterborough, UK:

“An interesting article but I have to say doesn’t reflect my past experience of the tribunal. Whenever I represented as a lay union official or in an individual capacity helping friends at tribunal I found the tribunal member/s extremely helpful and accommodating to allow the truth to be heard.

They often rebuked professional legal representatives where they tried to “play” with the law to win their case.

A structured approach and plenty of preparation was key and also showing respect to the tribunal and how you presented and also disputed the other side’s version of events/evidence was also important.

There is no doubt now in the UK that the introduction of fees had nothing to do with stopping vexatious or fictitious claims as in reality very few of these would have got to tribunal but was about cost cutting and revenue raising and also a barrier to justice based on the ability to pay.

One positive does seem to be that the introduction of the requirement to go to the ACAS Early Conciliation Service before tribunal appears to be working although probably too early for any meaningful data to show how successful.

Tribunals are stressful and difficult for someone with no experience to represent themselves but not impossible. What would worry me is this previous Tribunal Board Member seems to be saying that the odds were against an employee. Well surely that was part of what the board were there for to ensure an equal and fair playfield?

By the way I won every case I represented. Some of this was down to being realistic on the merits of the case but also being an experienced trade union official used to conflict/debate and investigation alongside representation. Also a lay understanding of the law is a great help.”

 David Sorenson, attorney in Leeds, UK:

“Hi . . . thanks for posting this – I’m afraid that I can’t disagree with the overall analysis.

As Claimant lawyers for private individuals and union members across the UK, we are experiencing exactly this – the outcome of the introduction of the Employment Tribunal/Employment Appeal Tribunal fees and other employment law/practice & procedure changes since 2012 is that those individuals who are the most disadvantaged in UK workplaces (who are likely to be the least well paid, such as those on zero hours contracts and who do casual work) are the ones who are most deterred by the extortionate ET/EAT fees.

Whatever your political viewpoint, the massively adverse impact on access to justice cannot be overstated. I’m personally saddened by the fact that what was once a pretty effective and fair ET system in the UK is now very hard to reach for many individuals who deserve access – hampered by the hurdles of having to (1) complete the grievance or appeal process (or risk losing up to 25% of compensation), (2) comply with mandatory ACAS early conciliation and then (3) pay high ET fee/s which may not be recovered (or never recovered if the employer is insolvent, such as Phones 4U and recently, City Link).

Whilst steps (1) and (2) may help resolve disputes pre-ET (which cannot be a bad thing), ET fees are becoming an insurmountable obstacle for many. The ET fee remission process is extraordinarily complex and applications for remission mostly fail, meaning that individuals who have been dismissed, are owed wages and have no work, are still expected to be able to pay fees of as much as £1,200.

This simply cannot, in my opinion, be right or fair. I only hope things change for the better in 2015…”

Sean Reynolds, attorney in Bolton, Greater Manchester, UK:

“I can’t see reducing ET fees being on any of the mainstream partys’ political agendas either during the run up to or after the general election in May 2015.

What we need now is a root and branch reform of the whole process, not just a facile focus on fees. This should include simplification of the remission process, introducing fee parity with the county courts and the introduction of a merits-based costs system with caps for both parties. Weekend or evening hearings would also be a good way of quickly progressing simple claims.

When we have a system that works properly, fairly and efficiently we can expect insurance-backed legal services to become more widely available to provide support and/representation to level the playing field, including on an after the event basis.”