Fees for bringing claims in the employment tribunal were introduced in August 2013. Since then, the Ministry of Justice’s statistics have revealed a huge decline in the number of claims. The latest statistics, available here, continue the depressing trend of early figures, and undermine any argument that the earlier statistics were unreliable.
A comparison of claims accepted for April-June 2014 with those for the same quarter for 2013, prior to the introduction of fees, shows the following:
- An 81% drop in the total of claims accepted, comprised of a 70% drop in single claims and a 85% drop in multiple claims.
- An alarming 91% drop in claims of sex discrimination, confirming the figures from previous quarters, and 75% fewer equal pay claims.
- An unsurprising huge decline in small claims: for example, claims for deduction from wages are down 74% and working time claims are down 90%.
This decline, if anything, greatly under-estimates the deterrent effect of fees. They only show how they impact on the issue of a claim form. Any worker who wants the privilege of a hearing for a discrimination claim, for example, must pay a further fee of £950. No fees are payable by the employer unless it loses the case, and it is then for the worker to enforce non-payment in the County Court – paying another fee.
Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Education and Business, celebrated the drop in claims. He asserted that it demonstrated the scale of false allegations that had been made against blameless employers. “Unscrupulous workers caused havoc by inundating companies with unfounded claims of mistreatment, discrimination or worse [sic]. Like Japanese knotweed, the soaring number of tribunal cases dragged more and more companies into its grip”, the Daily Telegraph reported him as saying.
No-one in government seems to have paid any heed to 2013 research for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills that, of those claimants who succeed in the tribunal, only 49% were ever paid in full . The government responded to similar reliable empirical evidence about this problem in the consultation which preceded the introduction of fees by stating that “we expect all parties to abide by the decisions of the tribunal and pay awards and fees as ordered”. No doubt, too, it “expects” employers not to discriminate against their workers because the current fees system means that the risk of a legal claim is minimal.
I would like to know how the payment rate in the tribunal compares with that of other judgment debts in the courts. Strip out the public sector cases where payment follows as a matter of course and the result might be interesting.
As for the fees, they may be too high, but there is nothing wrong with the principle. The courts charge and it is mere historical accident that the tribunals never did.