Employment Tribunals have offered a free service to Claimants since they were introduced in the 1970s. However that all changed on the 29th July 2013 when fees were introduced for anyone starting a claim in the tribunal. A fee is also payable when the case is put down for a hearing.
At the same time, Tribunals have been given greater powers to manage cases and to strike out weak claims, in the hope that this will speed up the process and reduce backlogs.
The Government hopes that these changes will reduce burdens on businesses and discourage people from bringing claims with little merit.
The amount of issue fee that a Claimant will pay depends on the type of claim that is being brought: £160 for straightforward money claims and £250 for unfair dismissal claims and all types of discrimination claims.
The hearing fee for an unfair dismissal claim is £950.
Some people may be able to claim a full or partial remission of fees. For example some benefits will operate as a passport so that no fees are due (for example, income support or income-related job seekers allowance). A single person with an income of up to £13,000 will not have to pay fees and there are higher allowances for those with partners and with children.
Those with income above these limits could still be entitled to a full remission once their income and expenses are taken into account.
(Note that the Government is currently looking at the system of fee remissions and has suggested that anyone with capital over £3,000 will be expected to contribute to the fees.)
A few other changes are designed to promote settlement and avoid cases getting to court.
Without Prejudice discussions between an employer and employee around a mutual termination of employment cannot be referred to at the Tribunal if conducted properly. Compromise Agreements have been renamed Settlement Agreements.
And from next year, all prospective Claimants will have to refer their details to ACAS before actually issuing tribunal proceedings.
The government’s own figures indicated that they expected a reduction in tribunal claims of around 20% once fees were introduced. The accuracy of this estimate, and the long term impact, will only become clear after the new system starts to bed in.
Whether the reforms, taken as a whole, lead to a real change in how employment disputes are conducted and resolved is very much a live question at present.