Controversy Surrounds Proposed Reinstatement of Employment Tribunal Fees: A United Call for Accessible Justice

Monday, February 26, 2024

A coalition of nearly 50 groups, including the TUC, Citizens Advice, Maternity Action, and Disability Rights UK, has vehemently opposed the government's plans to reinstate employment tribunal fees. These organisations, in a unified declaration signed by 48 entities, urge the government to urgently re-evaluate its intentions, expressing concern that the fees may make it financially impossible for numerous employees to seek justice in the workplace, particularly those more susceptible to violations of employment law.

The Ministry of Justice last month revealed its intention to bring back employment tribunal fees, asserting that it has given thorough consideration to the 2017 Supreme Court decision and has aimed to ensure the suggested fees are balanced and affordable.

However, the critics argue that the reintroduction of fees will only serve to facilitate worker exploitation. They believe that this move will deter individuals from filing legitimate claims and essentially signal to unscrupulous employers that they can exploit their employees with impunity.

The notion that employment rights are only effective when enforced is central to the critique. The proposed tribunal fees are seen as a barrier that could prevent many employees from accessing justice in the workplace.

Discussion points include whether tribunal fees result in more contentious claims, the claim that fees substantially restrict access to justice for workers, and the observation of employment tribunals facing strain after 25 years of operation.

A public consultation set to close on 25 March 2024, suggests a standard fee of £55 to initiate any claim in the employment tribunal or the employment appeal tribunal (EAT), with exemptions available for low-income individuals.

This initiative follows the substantial fees introduced in 2013 by the coalition government, which faced legal challenges up to the Supreme Court, where the fees were ultimately deemed unlawful for being unaffordable for low to middle-income households and for hindering access to justice.

The collective statement from the 48 groups highlights further obstacles to justice seekers, such as lack of awareness of employment rights, stringent claim filing deadlines, a beleaguered tribunal system, and an inadequately funded labour market enforcement framework.

The statement also touches on the exacerbating effect of the cost-of-living crisis on workers needing to recover wages or seek compensation for unfair dismissal, criticising the complexity of fee exemption procedures and the timing of these charges during economic pressures.

Specific concerns were raised about the disproportionate impact on vulnerable workers, such as pregnant women, disabled individuals, and migrant workers, with calls for the government to lower rather than raise barriers to justice.

Notable voices in the debate include Rosalind Bragg from Maternity Action, advocating for barrier reduction in the face of maternity discrimination, and TUC general secretary Paul Nowak, who condemns the fees as a green light for employer exploitation.

Contrastingly, employment barrister Daniel Barnett views the proposal as reasonable and unlikely to obstruct justice access, highlighting the government's effort to maintain a modest fee structure.

The statement's signatories cover a broad spectrum of advocacy groups, underscoring the widespread concern over the proposed fees' potential to impede workplace justic

Kim Cockayne