Six out of 10 potential employment claimants have been shut out of the system due to the introduction of tribunal fees, the president of the employment tribunals has said.
Giving evidence to the justice committee on employment tribunal fees, Judge Brian Doyle said he was concerned that 60% of claimants who entered into early conciliation have not managed to settle their potential claim through mediation or presented it to the tribunal.
He said the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has found evidence that these people may have been dissuaded from pursuing a claim because of the prospect of fees.
Doyle added that the fees have also not improved the take-up of judicial mediation conducted by the employment tribunal.
'We consider that the introduction of fees has had an adverse effect upon access to justice,’ he said.
The most obvious cases that have been affected, he added, are the short-track and standard-track cases, as the £390 fee is a considerable investment in proportion to the relatively moderate sums at stake.
Doyle suggested that the fees should be reclassified and recalibrated, such as by creating a three-track system that would charge different fees for short-track, standard-track and open-track cases.
He also recommended further charging points to encourage efficiencies, such as a fee when a case management hearing is held, and making respondents liable to pay response fees and hearing fees.
But consultancy Peninsula Business Services argued that the introduction of fees has helped to deter claims that had no genuine prospect of success, and has led to a reduction in cases where a small economic settlement is the goal.
It said: ‘We have seen no examples of a matter raised in early conciliation, where the claimant had an arguable case but settlement could not be achieved, not continuing to tribunal as a result of fees.’
As evidence it said that the drop in tribunal claims has not led to a commensurate increase in claims in alternative jurisdictions such as civil courts, where fees are lower.
Its response also said that where claimants have no income and therefore do not have to meet the fees personally, companies are still finding themselves defending ‘unmeritorious claims’.
‘This suggests that it is not that fees are preventing people with valid claims from accessing justice, but that they are discouraging claims being pursued solely with the goal of achieving a financial settlement.’
It added: ‘The fees help to remind claimants that litigation should be a last resort and help to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution.’