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Courts and Tribunals

Volume 620: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2017

The Government are committed to making sure people from all backgrounds can access justice.

Since fees were introduced, record numbers of working people have sought to resolve employment disputes either through tribunals or conciliation.

In 2015-16 there were more than 92,000 workplace disputes bought forward for resolution—the highest number since ET fees were introduced.

We believe we can improve on this, so today I am launching a consultation on proposals to extend support available to people on low incomes through the Help with Fees scheme.

Under our proposals, the monthly threshold for a full fee remission would be increased from £1,085 to £1,250—broadly the equivalent of someone earning the national living wage. There are additional allowances for people living as couples and those with children.

We will bring forward further measures to improve legal support in a Green Paper by early 2018 and the Prison and Courts Bill, due to be published shortly, which will enable more people to bring cases online, making it simpler and easier to access justice.

Under the extension to Help with Fees scheme, more people would not pay a fee at tribunal and others would contribute less than under current arrangements.

In particular the extended scheme would benefit women, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled people and younger people, who all feature disproportionately among low income groups.

These proposals would apply not only to people bringing ET proceedings, but also to those bringing proceedings in the civil and family courts and most other tribunals.

We have also decided to exempt from fees a small number of proceedings related to payments made from the national insurance fund. Unlike most proceedings before the ETs, in most cases the applicant is unable to conciliate, and they are unlikely to be able to recover the fee from an employer which in many cases will be insolvent.

We have decided to take this action following the findings of the post implementation review of the introduction of fees in the employment tribunals (ETs), which I am also publishing today.

The review has undertaken a very detailed and thorough analysis of the evidence, and we have concluded that fees have been generally successful in meeting the original objectives.

The Government believe it is important that those who can afford to pay for ETs continue to do so. An extra £9 million a year is raised through ET fees.

The review concludes that fees have been successful in promoting conciliation as an alternative way to resolve workplace disputes.

The review states that

“there is no conclusive evidence that ET fees have prevented people from bringing claims”

and that higher numbers turning to ACAS is a “positive outcome”.

This indicates the current system is generally working effectively and is operating lawfully.

This does not mean there is no room for improvement and where we have identified issues, we have not been afraid to address them.

In particular there is evidence that some people have found the fees off-putting—even if they were affordable or they may have qualified for fees to be waived.

This has been addressed with a campaign to raise awareness of the scheme and a new online application form to make it easier for people to apply.