Claimants in employment cases are turning to county courts rather than pay higher fees for employment tribunals, a former tribunals chief said last week, casting doubt on figures showing a dramatic fall in claims.

David Latham, former president of Employment Tribunals (England and Wales), said it is ‘unclear’ whether the claims total has plummeted by the official figure of 80%.

‘A lot of cases are going through the county courts as the fees are much cheaper, so we don’t know what the figure is,’ he told the Gazette at a Law Society event.

Some firms report taking the majority of cases through this route instead of employment tribunals, he said.

According to government statistics, employment tribunal claims fell by 79% in the final quarter of last year compared with the same period before fees were introduced. The second-quarter figures will be out later this week.

Since July 2013, tribunal fees have started at £160, rising to between £230 and £950 for further hearings. In contrast, county court fees start at £35 and increase incrementally in proportion to the sum of money being claimed.

Latham said the long-term impact of the fees regime is still uncertain, particularly as trade union Unison has been granted permission to appeal the High Court’s rejection of its judicial review challenge.

Richard Fox (pictured), vice-president of the Employment Lawyers Association and head of employment at Kingsley Napley, confirmed that low-value claims are now going through the county courts.

‘These are for things like the non-payment of wages and breach of contracts where the cost of the [fee] renders the claim uneconomic.’

He said many other claims are not being brought to any forum, meaning that ‘the most vulnerable people do not have access to justice’.

In the Queen’s speech last week, the government pledged to ‘reduce delays in employment tribunals’ through a Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.