Further to the introduction of employment tribunal fees on 29 July 2013, a move that was estimated to save the tax payer £74m per year, the eyes of the employment world were firmly fixed upon the Ministry of Justice’s quarterly release of employment tribunal statistics released on 18 October 2013.
With a wide variety of opinions ranging from the Trade Unions who declared that such fees would be a "roadblock to justice" and a "throwback to Victorian times", to seasoned employment solicitors saying that the fees would make very little difference, someone was bound to end up with egg on their face. So what do the initial results show?
Taking into consideration that on average, Employment Tribunals receive 17,000 claims per month, the statistics show that, as expected, claims brought prior to the fee deadline rose dramatically to 25,000 for the month of June and 17,000 for July. This had been anticipated and a prudent claimant solicitor would be borderline negligent in not advising their client of the imminent deadline.
Again, following the predicted pattern, claims for August dropped to 7,000. This was in no doubt owing mainly to the spike of claims in the previous months.
The blip in Tribunal claims is proving to be just that however. Early figures for September show that a total of 14,000 claims have been lodged. This does not include those claims that are still in the tribunal system awaiting receipt of payment or those awaiting a decision on whether the claimant qualifies for a reduction in fees due to the newly introduced remission scheme. We are, however, expecting to receive formal figures regarding claims volume for September to November this month. It may be that these results paint a different picture.
Either way, claims will always be brought and fees are unlikely to put off a determined Claimant. In our view, the best approach for businesses is to accept that claims will happen, and to deal with them robustly when they do. On the same day that fees were introduced, so were new Tribunal rules. Those rules strengthened the Tribunal’s powers to strike out unmeritorious claims at an early stage. Late last month we received the first example of such action being taken by a Tribunal. On the basis of the defence we filed for our client, a Tribunal have agreed with our arguments on the technicalities of admissibility and given notice that the claim will be dismissed. The time invested by our client at this first stage has saved them time and fees.
The legal wrangles over fees are an interesting sideshow to watch, but are not going to save businesses money. What will is strategic decision making and good advice at the outset of the inevitable litigation.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.