Employment tribunal fees ‘severely limit access to justice’, according to Bristol academic study

July 29, 2014

From Bristol 24-7 www.bristol247.com

The introduction of employment tribunal fees a year ago has “severely limited access to justice” for workers, according to Bristol researchers who are calling for the system to be overhauled.

Research by the universities of Bristol and Strathclyde found the number of claims made to employment tribunals between January and March this year fell by 81% compared to the same quarter the previous year.

The costs of the fees and the complexity for those on low incomes to access help with these costs has put off many workers from seeking legal redress against employers – who are not required to pay.

The results reveal “profoundly worrying consequences for the future of employment law”, according to the Bristol academic working on the research.

Prof Morag McDermont, pictured, professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Bristol Law School, said: “Such a sharp decrease in cases has profoundly worrying consequences for the future of employment law.

“Workers who have been unfairly dismissed, subjected to unlawful discrimination, or who have simply not been paid for work they have done now have severely limited access to justice. Due to such high fee levels, it’s hardly surprising that four out of five people now decide not to proceed.”

To reinstate workers’ access to justice, the researchers are calling for the fees to be abolished completely and for the employment tribunal system to be overhauled.

The research comes after Citizens Advice revealed that seven out of 10 potentially successful cases that could have gone before tribunals are not going ahead.

The new fees were introduced by the coalition to encourage businesses and workers to mediate or settle a dispute rather than go to a full hearing, while also reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

However, with fees ranging from £160 to £1,200, many people have reported that they can no longer afford to seek resolution of their employment-related disputes. Employers who defend claims are not required to pay.

The findings, based on analysis of 182 employment cases brought to Citizens Advice in June and July, come a year after the government introduced fees of up to £1,200 to access the tribunal system.

“Employers are getting away with unlawful sackings and withholding wages,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice told The Observer.

“People with strong employment claims are immediately defeated by high costs. The cost of a case can sometimes be more than the award achieved, and people can’t afford to fight on principle any more.”

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