Back in business: Employment tribunal claims increase is treat for lawyers

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By Polly Botsford on

Your LPC employment law elective suddenly got useful

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Employment lawyers are going to be kept busy in 2018, suggest statistics published by the Ministry of Justice today.

Between July and September 2017, claims in employment tribunals increased by more than 100%, doubling from a total number of claims of 13,759 (between April and June) to 30,339.

The whopping increase is partly as a result of the abolition of the controversial tribunal fee system whereby employees had to pay to lodge a claim. Charlotte Cooper, a regular at the employment tribunals and a consultant employment lawyer at West Midlands firm Schofield & Associates, told Legal Cheek:

“There’s definitely a greater appetite for employees to bring a claim because there is less downside. Without having to pay court fees, I can envisage the number of claims continuing to increase.”

The abolition of fees comes only four years after they were first introduced, back in July 2013. They were the brainchild of the then coalition government, under Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling MP. Fees ranged from about £390 for simple claims such as unfair dismissal to around £1,200 for more complex ones such as discrimination.

Case numbers collapsed, employment lawyers twiddled their thumbs: In 2012/13, there were almost 200,000 cases. By 2013/14, this number had reduced to around 44,000.

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Concerns were then raised about the damaging effect this was having on access to justice. But a review by the Ministry of Justice earlier in 2017 was unabashed about the fees: “While it is clear that many people have chosen not to bring claims to the employment tribunals, there is nothing to suggest they have been prevented from doing so.”

Then, in July 2017, came the conclusion of a challenge by the trade union UNISON, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a dramatic turnaround, seven justices ruled that the increased fees were unlawful. The top court found that:

“Fees must be affordable not in a theoretical sense, but in the sense that they can reasonably be afforded.”

The court did in fact support the Lord Chancellor’s reasons for introducing fees in the first place, finding they had “legitimate aims”. Broadly these were to encourage parties to resolve disputes before ending up in court, to transfer the cost of the courts from taxpayers to those actually bringing claims, and to reduce abuse of the system by people who had no real case and were just trying it on.

Though some of the latest increases are due to large multiple equal pay claims and slightly skew the figures, the number of single claims has also nearly doubled from 4,241 to 7,042.

This news comes at a time when the employment tribunals have seen a number of high-profile claims recently on the subject of worker status of those serving in the gig economy, bringing the likes of Uber and Deliveroo under the cosh.

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