The number of claims made to employment tribunals has almost doubled since the fees for bringing a claim were abolished last year, according to new official figures.
The latest government figures, covering October-December 2017, show 8,173 single claims were brought, compared to 4,200 for the same period in 2016 – an increase of more than 90%. There were also 31,192 multiple claims brought in this period related to 548 individual cases – an increase of 467% compared 4,760 claims related to 265 cases in the final quarter of 2016.
Overall, these figures mean that employment tribunal claims are now at the highest level since fees were first introduced in 2013.
Why were employment tribunal fees abolished?
Employment tribunal fees were ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in July 2017 following a legal challenge by Unison, the trade union. Unison successfully argued that the introduction of fees was dissuading workers for bringing claims, as evidenced by the fact that there had been a 73% drop in claims during the 3 years fees were in place.
The government immediately abolished the fees in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling and the large increase in tribunal claims since would seem to reinforce Unison’s argument that the fees were a deterrent to employees pursuing claims.
It is also possible that some of the increase in claims has been driven by employees attempting to bring historic claims related to issues that occurred during the period fees were in place.
While there is normally a time limit for bringing a claim of 3 months less one day from the date of the incident the claim relates to, tribunals have discretion to extend this time limit if they consider it appropriate to do so. It may, therefore, be the case that some people are submitting historic claims in the hopes that their case can still be heard.
An Employment Tribunal fee refund scheme was introduced in October 2017 that allows those charged fees for their employment claims to recover those costs. From 20 October 2017 to 31 December 2017, 4,800 refund applications were made and 3,337 refunds were issues with a total value of over £2.75million.
How the rise in employment tribunal claims could affect individual claims
One negative consequence of the rise in tribunal claims is that many claims are now taking much longer to process. The backlog of claims waiting to be dealt with grew by 66% in the last quarter of 2017 compared to 2016.
As a result, any employee bringing a claim or employer facing a claim should be prepared for a potentially longer wait to achieve a resolution. This provides an added incentive to consider early conciliation wherever possible, allowing you to resolve the matter privately without the need to wait for a tribunal hearing.
Early conciliation is often the best choice for both employees and employers as it allows the parties to quickly resolve the matter and move on. It can also make it easier to maintain a positive relationship if the employee is still working for the business in question and allow the employer to protect their reputation by keeping the matter out of the public eye.
For information and advice on employment tribunal claims and other options for resolving employment disputes, including early conciliation, please contact Janine Bryant.