According to Citizens Advice, people are being put off holding unfair employers to account by too-high fees and a lack of awareness about support.
New evidence from Citizens Advice reveals just under half of people with an employment issue would have to save for six months to afford tribunal fees of £1,200. The findings are from a Citizens Advice survey of people with employment problems.
In July 2013 the Government introduced fees to access the employment tribunal. The latest official figures released last week show a 66% reduction in applications.
The Government introduced fees in order to incentivise earlier settlements, ease the cost to taxpayers and bring the employment tribunal in line with other justice systems.
The new findings out today are based on a survey of 361 people who have been having problems at work. The Citizens Advice report, Fairer fees: Fixing the employment tribunal system, finds:
- More than four in five (82%) said the current fee prices would make them less likely to claim or deter them from claiming altogether.
- The income of people with employment troubles highlighted the problems with the level of fees. Over four in ten (43%) had a household income of less than £46 a week after essential bills.
- Only three in ten (30%) were aware of eligible financial support for those on low incomes. Half who thought they weren’t eligible actually were.
- Over half (53%) didn’t know what they could get out of making a claim and therefore whether it was financially worth their while.
- Four in five (80%) said they raised issues with their employer before taking further action.
The research also showed that whilst people were put off by too-high fees, a clear majority would be willing to pay a fee. Nine in ten (90%) said they would not be put off by a £50 fee.
Citizens Advice wants fees to be aligned with county court fees to widen access. This would stop people losing out to unfair employers and avoid ‘justice tourism’ where people use less appropriate more affordable county courts.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice said:
“The employment tribunal system is imbalanced against claimants. Fees are pricing people out of basic workplace rights and a justice system that is supposed to protect them. Unfair dismissals, employers withholding wages and discrimination are problems that Citizens Advice is unfortunately hearing about all too often.
“Many claims go unheard as people simply can’t afford to pursue it and there’s a real risk that if they do employers still won’t pay up. Claims are often for amounts below the fees so this leaves some having to concede valid claims.
“It is concerning that people are often unsure on what they are entitled to claim and so find it difficult to judge whether or not to pursue a case. We know that some must save for months to afford a tribunal. People must be made aware of the help and support available to them if they are on low incomes.
“The Government needs to take an urgent look again at how the fee system benefits those workers who feel the prices are a barrier to justice.”
Citizens Advice is calling on the Government to:
Set employment tribunal fees in line with county court fees to widen access. This would stop ‘justice tourism’ which occurs when people use less appropriate county courts because the fees are more affordable. Currently people pay more to get job justice than they would to get compensation for a faulty good in the small claims court.
Promote awareness of the remissions system, and consider renaming it to make its function clearer. We found that only three in ten were aware that remissions were available. They should be renamed full and partial fee reductions and should be better promoted. Gov.uk should develop a web tool allow people to check whether they would be eligible for full or partial fee reductions. Claimants must read a 32 page document to check their eligibility.
Commission research to get a clear picture for the first time of claims that are really weak or spurious. Currently the system is imbalanced against claimants, and this cannot be fully restored without knowing what puts off weak and genuine claims. The research should establish what proportion of employment tribunal claims can be considered unjustified and what measures could be taken to protect employers without deterring legitimate claims.