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Government urged not to resurrect fees for UK employment tribunals

<span> Forty-eight organisations said bringing back fees meant ‘bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones’.</span><span>Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/Press Association Images</span>
Forty-eight organisations said bringing back fees meant ‘bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones’.Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Unions and workers’ rights groups are urging the government to reconsider plans to reintroduce fees for employment tribunals amid fears it will encourage exploitation.

A coalition of 48 organisations, including the TUC, Citizens Advice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Fawcett Society and Maternity Action, said bringing back fees, which were ditched in 2017, meant “bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones”.

The government was forced to ditch a previous fee regime, under which charges ranged from £390 to £1,200 depending on the case, after the supreme court ruled it was preventing access to justice, breaching UK and EU law.

The number of cases brought by individuals dropped by almost 70% after the fees were first introduced in 2013 by Chris Grayling, the lord chancellor at the time.

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In a joint statement the workers’ rights groups said the new fees, which start from £55 to bring a claim, risked pricing many people out of workplace justice. “We believe [reintroducing fees] will deter many from lodging worthy claims and gives a green light to bad employers to exploit their workers,” they said.

“Bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones, safe in the knowledge they are less likely to face claims in the employment tribunal … Employment rights are only real if they are enforced.”

While the initial fee can cover a claim on behalf of more than one person, an additional £55 appeal fee would be charged for each judgment, decision, direction or order being appealed against. Some employment tribunal rulings, such as the hard-fought case over employment status by Uber drivers, faced multiple appeals hearings over many years, meaning that significant costs could still be racked up for claimants.

The government said last month that it was on consulting on bringing back fees, arguing that the proposed costs were low enough to allow workers to pursue low-value claims. Help would also be available for those who could not afford the fee.

There is also an exemption for individuals using a tribunal to claim their right to a payment from the national insurance fund, which usually relates to pension contributions or redundancy payments where an employer is insolvent.

It said “careful consideration has been given to the lessons learned” from 2017 and the new fees would be “proportionate and affordable” in line with the supreme court judgment. The consultation will run until 25 March.

The government said the new fees would “ensure users are paying towards the running costs of the tribunals and put its users on broadly the same footing as users of other courts and tribunals who already pay fees”.

It has said it expects the fees to generate up to £1.7m a year from 2025, and that it cost £80m to run employment tribunals last year.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, said working people should be able to enforce their rights.

“Introducing fees for tribunals puts yet another hurdle in the way of those seeking justice at their most vulnerable moment. The Conservatives have already tried this and failed.

“Last time they introduced tribunal fees, claims dropped by two-thirds, and the supreme court threw fees out, saying they interfered with access to justice.

“That should have been the nail in the coffin for these cynical plans, but ministers have decided to side with bad bosses over workers and resurrect employment tribunal fees.”

The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.