2013 Employment Tribunal Fees
by Net Employment Solicitors
In the governments thirst to save money, earlier this week the Chancellor George Osbourne announced that from April 2013 the Employment Tribunal will require an upfront fee to the Employment Tribunal of £150-£200 to commence the application and £1,000 for the matter to be heard in the Tribunal itself – which is not cheap.
At the moment, no fee is made to the Employment Tribunal either for a claim or a hearing.
This move clearly raises further general concerns about access to Justice and what the Government are doing will indirectly be ring-fencing those who can proceed with a case i.e., being dependent on the ability to pay the fee. However, the proposal of the Chancellor is that those with a low or no-income with be automatically exempt from paying the fee – however, it potentially could still be a bar!
My colleagues here in the office, whilst I mulled over the problem over a coffee, were equally worried that it is a preventative measure to stop the number of claims to the Employment Tribunal - but when you consider the number of claims has risen in the Employment Tribunal in recent years, especially where people halt their claim mid-way though the process this can push up the cost of the process – currently the Tribunal in England, Wales and Scotland burdens the taxpayer £84 million per year. Clearly not an insignificant amount!
Costs are clearly a big motivator behind the new changes, as the Chancellor raises the point that of 80% of applications to the Employment Tribunal never result in an actual hearing. I regret the Chancellor is substantially missing the point, at the moment there is no other alternative to using the Employment Tribunal to pursue a claim (ACAS – although friendly and informative are not interested in justice but a swift financial settlement of a claim – which doesn’t match with the overall merits of the claim). In our experience we frequently find that raising a claim in the Employment Tribunal means that we grasp the attention of the employer as they know that they could be facing a hearing at the Employment Tribunal highlighting their possible employment law breaches in relation to their (former) employee. It is then that we are in a favourable position to agree a potentially better financial settlement with the employer on behalf of the claimant. (it further raises the question about the ability to enforce employment law.)
Equally, in many of the cases where the claimant decides to deal with the case themselves there is every chance that the ET1 has been ill prepared. I personally suspect that it is these cases that provide the lion’s share of claims that are withdrawn from the Tribunal, as the claimant attempts to pursue a claim in the face of the onslaught of a firm of Solicitors mounting a defence from the employer - which can feel incredibly personal if you're unfamiliar with some of the tactics used by employers solicitors. In fact, if a friend of mine were to suggest bringing an Employment Tribunal claim against their employer without legal - no matter how intelligent or articulate they maybe - I would strongly advise against it.
I am not convinced that the changes to the Employment Tribunal, with an upfront fee is the answer – it just means that Justice has a cost to the victim of the alleged breach etc.
Generally, it could be argued that the Chancellor has an eye on the needs of business rather than the rights of the individual – certainly when you couple this with the proposal of increasing in 2013 of the qualifying period of two years for a claim of unfair dismissal it would appear to be the case. The Governments justification for this in part is that the qualifying period was previously two years was reduced.
Personally I am uncomfortable with this particular change – I have seen far too many unscrupulous employees dismissing employees with less than two years service (on the pretence of redundancy) just so they can bring new people in – on a slightly different job description and in a falling economy on a reduced salary.
On balance, it sounds like a good idea to reduce the costs to the taxpayer of the Employment Tribunal but the Chancellor George Osborne is possibly misguided as it directly affect individuals right for justice – all of the changes appear to be benefiting the employer – reducing the chances of a case etc. Legal costs for employers defending a claim can be substantial – but the majority of the claims that we see are far from superfluous.
I can but hope that the Chancellor has a change of mind before 2013!
BBC Online “New fees for tribunals from 2013, says George Osborne” Dated 3 October 2011
The Guardian, “George Osborne plan to charge workers for tribunals angers unions” Dated 3 October 2011
by Net Employment Solicitors
The case revolves around Amardeep and Vijay Begraj, a former solicitor and Practice Manager in the Coventry based solicitors firm, Heer Manak.
Amardeep and Vijay had met at work, fell in love and got married. It seemed like a normal office romance with a happy-ever-after. However, the Metro relates how Amardeep and her husband told the Employment Tribunal that after Amardeep had started to date Vijay, she was told by a senior colleague that she should reconsider her relationship with Vijay, as he was from the caste known as the Dalits (a caste known as the 'untouchables' whilst she was from the Jats, one of the better castes). Things didn't end there and the claim of Amardeep and Vijay covering the period of her and her husband’s employment raises claims consistent with race discrimination.
All said and done, I can't help but be inspired by Amardeep and her husband for standing firm to their values which sees the person rather than the caste her ancestors inherited when in India.
For the uninitiated, caste discrimination appears to be almost part of the 18th Century, replayed on our screens in Merchant Ivory films, a Passage to India etc. Sadly, its existence continues.
The reality is that Caste for many Indians is still a matter of pride, for those fortunate to be from the high-end and shame for those at the lower end.
In a lot of respects those who suffer caste discrimination endure as much hostility and name calling as those who suffer race discrimination.
In our work at Net Employment Solicitors, particularly with the Asian community across the UK, we regrettably consistently see this kind of complaint levelled at employers and which we have been unable to take forward as a straight caste discrimination claim. At the current time, little information is available in the press about the strict legal basis that this specific claim was bought. What is surprising is that this case is the first to claim ‘caste’ discrimination.
From a legal prospective, this is ground-breaking. Under the Equality Act 2010, race, sex, disability are all ‘protected characteristics’ and therefore capable of forming the basis of a discrimination claim. Whilst the Equality Act potentially allows for the extension of a protected characteristic to cover caste, in reality the position is far from clear. In my view, there has certainly been considerable need for the law to include caste into the class of protected characteristics. In a report by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA) completed in 2009, of 300 people questioned, as part of their survey into caste discrimination, 58% reported being discriminated because of their caste. Their report also confirms our experience in this area i.e., that many of the victims were reluctant to report it as they did not think they would be believed by the authorities.
Fifty-eight percent of the 300 people surveyed said they had been discriminated against because of their caste, while 79% said they did not think the police would understand if they tried to report a caste-related "hate crime".
Clearly as far as those who are affected by the caste system and who still perpetuate it, by considering themselves as different, they do see themselves as holding a uniquely different characteristic which goes beyond what the law currently considers.
So how will this case pan-out? I think it goes back to the question why the Government, in setting down the Equality Act didn’t include caste discrimination? Especially in light of the considerable weight of evidence that such discrimination does exist. I am not a fortune-teller, and being in the legal profession one cannot afford to be. But I suspect without clearer guidelines we have not heard the end of this particular form of discrimination.
- Metro Article
- British law firm sued for 'caste bigotry', Strait Times (Straittimes.com), 19 August 2011
- Asian caste discrimination rife in UK, Guardian (Guardian.co.uk), 11 November 2011
Other sites with information
- Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain, by Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, December 2010.