The government has backtracked on its decision not to directly contact claimants who are due a refund after paying now-outlawed employment tribunal (ET) fees.

In a letter to the House of Commons Justice Committee, published this week, justice secretary David Gauke confirmed the refund scheme had been making ‘reasonable progress’ but that ‘further action was necessary’.

David Gauke

David Gauke

‘We are therefore writing over the next few months to everyone who paid an ET fee, but who has not yet applied for a refund, to raise awareness of the existence of the scheme, and providing details on how to apply,’ Gauke wrote. A first batch of 2,000 letters was issued on 9 April.

ET 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. For certain claims, claimants had to pay up to £1,200.

Trade union Unison challenged the fees all the way up to the Supreme Court, which last year outlawed the fees. The government immediately abolished fees and announced a full refund for anyone who had paid.

The U-turn comes after Gauke’s former Ministry of Justice (MoJ) colleague Dominic Raab suggested in December last year that the government could not write to those due a refund as ‘often people move home’.

Until now, the government had instead relied on information being displayed on 'government channels’. MPs were also told that they could inform constituents.

Gauke did not provide an update on exactly how many claimants had been refunded. As of December, the MoJ said 3,400 refund payments had been made, with a value of £2.8m. The overall cost of the expected refund is expected to be £33m. 

Elsewhere in the letter, Gauke confirmed that the government had incurred £305,255.85 in legal costs during the dispute. ‘We anticipate that there will be further legal costs in settling Unison’s costs, which the Supreme Court has ordered us to pay, but we expect these to be small,’ he added. He added that as the Supreme Court’s ruling has ‘wider implications’ the MoJ has sought legal advice on the way that the courts and tribunals are funded.