Unison lose their bid to overturn tribunal fees

In January 2011 the Government announced it was going to reform “workplace disputes” practices with the aim of encouraging both employers and employees to resolve disputes themselves. This was in order to reduce the number of tribunal claims, and to speed up the claims that do arise.

Traditionally, Employment Tribunals  are used to help resolve workplace disputes and their decisions are legally binding. However, several Tribunal Rules were changed on 29th July 2013, including the introduction of a fee to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

Since 29th July 2013 the fees you need to pay to bring a claim are:

On announcement of the fee system, the largest UK Union, UNISON, eventually received permission for a Judicial Review of these fees, which was heard in October 2013 by the High Court.

At the Judicial Review, UNISON argued that the fees contradict European Union laws and will make it virtually impossible for workers to exercise their legal rights.  UNISON general secretary, Dave Prentis, said the introduction of “punitive” fees for taking a claim to a tribunal would “give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights”.

The union argued that the fees were “unfair and should be dropped” and that they would “price workers out of court”.  UNISON’s bid was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In response to the Judicial Review the Government promised to refund any fees already paid if the UNISON challenge was successful.

On 7th February 2014, the High Court judges ruled that there was insufficient evidence to suggest the fees were unfair, so UNISON’s initial challenge failed.

The High Court said that the evidence presented by UNISON, based largely on how the fees might affect a set of notional claimants, had been too hypothetical to give a full picture of whether or not the fees were unfair.  The Court said, “it will be easier to judge actual examples of those who assert they have been or will be deterred by the level of fees imposed”.

The Court went onto say that the “fundamental flaw in these proceedings is that they are premature and that the evidence at this stage lacks that robustness necessary to overturn the regime”.  The Court appeared to accept the union’s arguments that the impact of the fees barred access to justice for workers treated unfairly by their employers.

UNISON have said it will appeal this decision. The general secretary said “today’s decision is very disappointing, but we will fight on and take our very strong arguments to the Appeal Court.  We provided clear evidence that since the fees were introduced, the number of employment tribunal cases has collapsed”.

He added that he felt the case had been taken too early, so the union had been unable to extract sufficient information from Freedom of Information requests from the Government to show the large drop in tribunal claims.

In May 2014 Unison were granted further leave to appeal the High Courts decision and in mid September 2014 the Lord Chancellor gave Unison the green light to launch a judicial review into the lawfulness of employment tribunal fees. These fresh proceedings were heard in October 2014 and a decision is expected later this year. The most likely outcome is belived to be a reduction in fees rather than a repeal of the fee system.

Full details about Employment Tribunals are here and details about the fee ‘remission’ system that operates for those who cannot afford these fees are here.

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One Comment to "Unison lose their bid to overturn tribunal fees"

  1. […] the decision to implement Tribunal fees, which happened in October 2013.  On 7th February 2014 the High Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to suggest the fees were unfair – Unison are to appeal this decision further and in May 2014 were given leave to appeal the High […]

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