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UK government begins employment tribunal fees review

The UK government has begun its planned review of the impact and effectiveness of employment tribunal fees and the fee remissions scheme for low earners, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced.

The department has also published terms of reference for the review, which it expects to conclude before the end of the year. It does not intend to consult users of the tribunal service unless and until it proposes any changes to the fees and remissions scheme after it concludes the review.

The Court of Appeal is due to hear a legal challenge against the fee regime, brought by the trade union UNISON, this week. In February 2014, the High Court said that it was too early for the union to prove that the regime breached certain principles of European law. However, the same court refused a second judicial review application in December after the union was unable to provide evidence of "any actual instances" of individuals that had been prevented from making a claim by the introduction of fees.

Fees to bring a claim to an employment tribunal or the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) were introduced on 29 July 2013. Parties now have to pay an upfront fee to raise a claim, followed by a further 'hearing fee' once the case is referred to a tribunal. Claims 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.

The regime was introduced to fulfil three stated objectives: to transfer some of the costs of operating the tribunals from the taxpayer to those that use the service; to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution services; and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribunals. However, UNISON and other critics of the fee regime have argued that by requiring employees to pay a fee to bring a claim against their employer, the government has reduced their access to justice. They have also argued that the fees particularly disadvantage lower paid workers and so indirectly discriminate against women and ethnic minorities.

The MoJ will look at tribunal data on case volumes, case progression and case outcomes, and general trends in case numbers before the fees were introduced, as part of the review process. It will also consider "qualitative research on the views of court and tribunal users". According to the terms of reference, the review will also consider whether patterns of use have been influenced by other changes to employment laws, including the introduction of mandatory conciliation through Acas before a claim can be referred to the tribunals.

The latest statistics on employment tribunal usage were published alongside the terms of reference for the review. The total number of claims heard between April 2014 and March 2015 was 61,306; down from 105,803 over the same period in 2013/14 and 191,541 in 2012/13, the last 12-month period before the introduction of fees, according to the figures.

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