Employment tribunal fees are reducing the incentive for employers to seek early conciliation, a House of Lords committee heard this week.

Instead, employers are holding out in the belief that the fees will discourage employees from going to tribunal, Douglas Johnson, a specialist in discrimination law at the Law Centres Network told the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee.

‘There is far more of a shift towards employers just saying “no, issue your claim and then we’ll talk”,’ he told the committee, which is taking evidence on the enforcement of the Equality Act. 

Since May 2014, it has been mandatory for employees to use the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas)’s early conciliation mediation service before lodging a tribunal case, and it was hoped a rise in those pursuing mediation would offset the rise in fees.

But Johnson said that under the new fees employers are financially more tempted to get away with taking a claim to the tribunal level, while claimants have so much to lose that they cannot afford to make a claim.

Rachel Crasnow QC, from the Bar Council’s equality and diversity and social mobility committee, who was also giving evidence, said the drop in the number of cases due to the court fees was also having an impact on conciliation.

‘Because employers are facing far fewer claims because less are being brought, they tend to have a more bullish approach to conciliating those claims. [This is] partly because the budget for legal expenses is not being used up in the same way and because they feel there is less pressure to settle matters,’ she said.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff (pictured), former president at the Law Society and chair of the Society's equality and diversity committee, told the Lords committee that legal aid cuts and tribunal fees were impeding the enforcement of the Equality Act.

Earlier this week the Law Society called for radical changes to the employment tribunal structure to ensure unlawful workplace practices do not go unpunished.