The government has so far paid out £1.8m of the expected £33m cost of refunding people who paid unlawful employment tribunal fees, it was revealed today.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee, justice minister Dominic Raab said 4,689 applications had been received so far, of which the government had approved around 2,600.
Raab added that the government’s ’outreach scheme and refunding process’ is expected to cost a further £1.8m to £2m, bringing the overall cost of refunding claimants closer to £35m.
Asked whether he was happy with the figures so far, Raab conceded there is still ‘a lot to do’ but that the government is making ‘good progress by setting out a rigorous scheme’.
Raab dismissed concern that claimants who need refunding may be uncontactable and said information was being displayed on the 'usual government channels’ as well as from MPs, tribunals themselves and the Citzens Advice Bureaux. Information has also been sent to the Law Soceity and Bar Council, he added.
Asked by committee chair Bob Neill MP how much the government had spent defending the fees through the court’s Raab said he did not know the exact figure but said he would write to the committee with the answer.
Raab would not be drawn on when or if the government would re-introduce fees and instead said it would ensure it has the right balance to ensure access to justice and make sure meritless claims are kept out. He added that the government was interested in encouraging alternative means for dispute resolution.
Those who were deterred from bringing claims because of the fees will be able to bring a claim out of time at the employment tribunal, Raab confirmed. However, he conceded it would be at the tribunal’s discretion on whether or not to hear the claim.
Earlier in the session the committee heard from Law Society president Joe Egan and Shantha David, legal officer at the union Unison – the successful claimant in the fees case.
Egan told the committee that, despite it being one of the main reasons for imposing fees, there was ‘no evidence that weak and vexatious claims were a problem’. He added that it is open to judges to strike out cases at an early stage.
He added: ‘You would have expected that if fees deterred frivolous cases then successful claims would have gone up after the introduction of fees but statistics show that the number of successful cases actually declined.’
David said ‘access to justice should not be about making a profit, but about individuals asserting their rights’. She added that if the government does reintroduce fees it must ensure that they do not have a deterrent effect.
Earlier today, a report by the Confederation of British Industry, revealed that nine out of 10 companies believe the removal of fees will lead to a rise in weak or misguided claims.