The Ministry of Justice has confirmed it may reintroduce fees for employment tribunal claims, insisting it can find a balance that helps fund the court system while being ‘proportionate and progressive’.

Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the MoJ, said that although nothing is set in stone he is confident a fee system can be found that will ensure access to justice. 

The government was roundly criticised for its tribunal fee structure before a landmark 2017 Supreme Court judgment declared the fee scheme unlawful.

Tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013 by then lord chancellor Chris Grayling. They started at around £160, and increased to between £230 and £950 for further hearings. In certain circumstances claimants had to pay up to £1,200.

Answering questions from the House of Commons Justice Committee, Heaton noted that the judgment did not completely outlaw the concept of fees. ‘We have taken time over this,’ he said. ‘We have to get the fee level right. I can see a scheme working that is both progressive and allows people out of paying fees where they can’t afford to.’

He added that there are no immediate plans to reintroduce a fee scheme. ‘What we are not trying to do is squeeze as much income as we can out of every litigant,’ he insisted.

The MoJ  is ‘doing all it can’ to ensure that everyone who paid a fee is refunded. In 2017/2018 refund payments totalled £7.1m. Since the end of the financial year [April 2018] the MoJ has, on a cumulative basis, made refunds totalling £15.8m.

Asked whether the probate fee charges, announced via a written statement this week, were in line with the MoJ’s focus on ensuring access to justice, Heaton said he was confident the new scale is ‘proportionate, progressive and within our powers’.