Have fees caused a collapse in Employment Tribunal claims?
Since 29 July 2013, anyone unfairly sacked or discriminated against at work has had to fork out a ridiculous £1200 in fees to get their day in court. Has this extreme form of credit card justice deterred claimants?
The Ministry of Justice was forced to release early data on the question last week, presumably ahead of Unison’s ongoing legal challenge to the fees. It recommends exercising “extreme caution” with interpreting these early figures, then abandons its own advice by claiming:
Employment Tribunal receipts were around 40,000 for July – September in line with historical quarterly trends.
This is a very creative reading – to put it politely – of some worrying numbers, buried much further in its report. Let me show you why.
Firstly, this 40,000 figure is badly distorted by a few blocks of massive multiple claims. For example, mass claims for breaches of the Working Time Directive filed by airline employees account for more than half the figure alone. So it makes more sense to look at individual claims e.g. unfair dismissal or race discrimination claims. Secondly, fees came in at the end of July, so far better to look at the picture on a monthly basis as below.
The graph above shows a spike in July as people have rushed forward their claims to beat the introduction of fees. But does this early rush then explain the massive drop after July? Only partly.
In the 18 months to June, single claims averaged 4,528 per month. If we take that average, then there was a jump in claims of 2,163 in July to 6,691. In August, there was a drop of 1,187 to 3,541 partly explained by people choosing to file claims in July who would have ordinarily filed in August. But by September, there’s another drop of 3,525 to an alarmingly low 1,003 claims (or about a 78% crash from the pre-fees average). This can’t all be explained by the pre-fees rush. After all, discounting for that, there are still 2,500 claims missing in August and September from the pre-fees monthly average.
Even if you assume a very conservative long run average of say, 4,000 claims a month, tribunal fees have still taken out 1,000 claims or a 25% drop in September.
There are a few other minor variables at play – the small lag in processing times, the August holiday period and the 90 day time limit claimants usually have to file – but they wouldn’t shift the conclusion that these eye-watering fees are deterring genuine victims from seeking justice. The real question is how many.
Then Justice Minister Helen Grant (now Sport and Equalities) stated in response to criticisms that fees would hurt vulnerable groups that:
We will monitor the impact very, very carefully on women and other individuals with protected characteristics to ensure that justice and fairness is done and if it is not done, of course we will look at it again.
No doubt her careful monitoring has uncovered that there were only 129 sex discrimination claims filed in September. The monthly average from January to June in 2013 was 2,055. While these are early figures, they should be enough for any government concerned with “justice and fairness” to get ready to take these wretched fees off the books should the official tribunal stats out on 12 December confirm this absolute disaster.