Multiple claims in the employment tribunal nearly doubled towards the end of 2020 as the effects of the pandemic took effect. Statistics published this week by the Ministry of Justice show 29,000 claims were made by more than one person based on the same set of facts in the final three months of last year. This is 82% up on the same period in 2019.
The multiple claims received from October to December 2020 related to 1,000 multiple claim cases, which is up from 630 multiple cases in the same period the previous year.
The number of single claim receipts is also up, by 25% to 13,200 in the current quarter, most likely due to the rise in unemployment and changes to working conditions during the pandemic.
One of the steepest rises was in age discrimination claims, which jumped from 208 in September to 1,166 in October. Statistics also show that working time claims took the place of unfair dismissal as the most common claim.
Laura Farnsworth, partner at London firm Lewis Silkin, said many of the claims remain to be reviewed and allocated to a claim type, but conclusions could be drawn about trends. ‘The statistics do show a significant increase in claims of age discrimination,’ she said. ‘This may suggest two scenarios – either employers are targeting older workers when selecting for redundancy or, more likely, that claims are coming from younger workers who appear to have been most affected by Covid related redundancies or furlough.’
Farnsworth added that the increase in multiple cases may be accounted for by the fact that many employers have been making changes to workers’ terms and conditions and conducting large scale redundancy exercises.
As would be expected when claims have increased, the backlog of outstanding employment claims has risen to 51,000 – up 45% on the figure pre-Covid.
Chris Millward, head of claims at insurer ARAG, said it was ‘clear’ from the statistics that the tribunal system does not have the capacity to cope. 'The end to the furlough scheme is likely to bring another spike in redundancies and yet more tribunal claims, so it is hard to see the situation improving anytime soon,' he said.
The government has increased the number of judges working on employment claims and hugely increased the number of hearings held remotely in a bid to clear the backlog.
The Ministry of Justice said: ‘The return of face to face hearings, as well as the substantive use of remote hearings in courts, has increased ET disposals back to pre-C19 levels. We expect to see a slowdown in receipts with the announcement to continue the furlough scheme till autumn 2021.’