Employment Tribunal fees were scrapped in July, following a major legal victory for UNISON in the Supreme Court, which ruled the government acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the controversial fees four year ago.
The UK’s highest court unanimously upheld UNISON’s claim that the fees were “inconsistent with access to justice” and prevented people from making legitimate discrimination claims. As well as scrapping the fees with immediate effect, the government will also refund more than £27m in fees paid by workers since the policy was introduced by the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.
A stunning win
Congratulating UNISON on its landmark victory, MiP chief executive Jon Restell said: “This is a stunning win for access to justice and working people. If you still need proof that trade unions are important in this country, this is it. Without UNISON’s tenacious campaign in the courts, the regressive policy on tribunals fees would have remained with us.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.
“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere,” he added. “UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.”
The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, and said fees “had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and deterred people from pursuing genuine cases as well as the so-called vexatious claims the fees were intended to deter.
The court said UNISON’s evidence showed the fall in claims when fees came in was “so sharp, so substantial and so sustained” that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes. It also held that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.
The fees, which applied to workers in England, Scotland and Wales, were set at £390 for wage and contractual claims, and £1,200 for more complex cases such as unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. Workers wishing to lodge cases at the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to find fees of up to £1,600.