The long-awaited review of employment tribunal (ET) fees by the government has been released. Since fees were introduced in July 2013, the government has faced calls to remove them on the grounds that they hinder access to justice.
In response to these calls, the government announced a review, which was initially scheduled for publication in 2014, so the results are long anticipated.
The review finds that the government has met their objectives behind the fee introduction through:
- Users of the tribunal system financially contributing between £8.5 million and £9 million each year through the payment of fees.
- Increasing the use of Acas’s early conciliation scheme as compared with the previous use of voluntary conciliation and ET hearings combined.
- Access to justice being maintained as conciliation is effective and, where this does not work, many go on to issue proceedings.
The review comments that those who do not go on to issue proceedings after early conciliation because they cannot afford to pay fees does not mean they cannot realistically afford to pay.
Instead, the review suggests that paying the fee may mean they have to reduce other spending, they were not aware of the assistance available under the Help with Fees scheme or were unaware of the Lord Chancellor’s exceptional power to remit fees.
The government’s view is that ET fees have discouraged individuals from bringing claims, but there is no evidence to conclude that they are prevented from doing so because of the fees.
However, they are concerned by the greater than expected fall in ET claims and the evidence that some people are put off bringing a claim because of the fee.
To tackle these concerns, the government is releasing a consultation with a view to:
- Extend support available under the Help with Fees scheme by setting the threshold for fee remission at broadly the same level as someone earning the National Living Wage, helping lower earners.
- Maintaining additional allowances under the scheme for couples and those with children.
- Making certain proceedings relating to payments under the National Insurance Fund exempt from fees.
The government is pledging to continue to monitor the effect of ET fees on those with protected characteristics.
The consultation will remain open for responses until 14 March 2017. It is worth remembering that the fees regime still faces a legal challenge from Unison at the Supreme Court on the 27th and 28th March.