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Fall in employment claims drives tribunal figures to "lowest since records began"

The number of claims lodged with the UK tribunals has fallen by 71% in a year, driven primarily by reductions in "social security and child support appeals and employment claims", the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said.

According to the figures, the 74,400 claims lodged between April and June 2014 is the lowest number recorded in a three-month period since statistics were first published in 2008/09. The number has also fallen by one third on that recorded between January and March, and marks the third month in a row that the number of new claims fell.

The figures emerged as the Labour Party promised that it would "abolish the current system ... and put in place a new system which ensures all workers have proper access to justice". Speaking at the TUC conference, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna described the system of tribunal fees, which came into force in July 2013, as "unfair".

Employees have been required to notify Acas, the government-backed conciliation service, before they can lodge a claim with an employment tribunal since 6 May. The notification triggers an 'early conciliation' scheme where Acas will attempt to resolve the dispute at a pre-tribunal stage. According to Acas' first figures on early conciliation, 17,145 people used the service between April and June.

Fees to bring a claim to an employment tribunal or the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) were introduced on 29 July 2013. Under the new structure, parties have to pay an upfront fee to raise a claim followed by a further 'hearing fee' once the case is referred to a tribunal. Claim types are subdivided into the administratively simple 'Type A' claims, with fees of £160 and £230; and 'Type B' unfair dismissal or discrimination claims, with fees of £250 and £950. Flat fees apply to EAT cases. A remission system operates to exempt people on low incomes from having to pay the full fees.

The fees regime is currently the subject of a legal challenge from the trade union UNISON, which has argued that requiring employees to pay a fee to bring a claim against their employer reduces access to justice and that the fees particularly disadvantage lower paid workers and so indirectly discriminate against women and ethnic minorities. The government has defended its policy by saying that the fees regime is necessary to ensure the cost of the tribunal system is shared more equally between the taxpayer and tribunal users.

In February, the High Court dismissed UNISON's challenge on the grounds that it was too early for the union to prove that the fees prevented vulnerable workers and those with 'protected characteristics' from claiming against their employers. The Court of Appeal will begin hearing arguments in the appeal on 18 September.

Commenting on the figures, Neil Carberry of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that the tribunal system had to "work fairly for both employees and businesses" in order to be effective.

"Firms have been frustrated for years by delays in the system and by false and misleading claims that take up time and resources," he said. "Businesses want to see a return to a less bureaucratic system that deals with claims more quickly and run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, rather than the court service. Recent reforms which encourage early resolution of disputes are a step in the right direction, and fees to make a claim are a vital part of that."

"Fees should not remove access to justice for those with legitimate claims, so a review of the level set is something businesses could support," he said.

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