Eversheds partner Geoffrey Mead has commented on statistics published by the UK Ministry of Justice, which confirm a sustained reduction in the number of employment tribunal claims lodged since the fees regime was introduced last year.
Mead noted that the figures show a 59 per cent reduction in ‘single’ claims (those made by a sole employee/worker rather than a group) for January to March 2014, compared with the same period in 2013, and said that from this it is clear the fees regime is having a significant impact on the level of claims.
He said: ‘No doubt UNISON, which is pursuing judicial review proceedings against the government, will be hoping to rely on the latest statistics to shore up its case for the fees regime to be quashed.
‘UNISON alleges that the fees regime breaches the EU principle of effectiveness [by making it excessively difficult to enforce employment rights] and is indirectly discriminatory. Although the High Court rejected UNISON’s arguments following a hearing last year, the union is appealing that decision. Their case failed at first instance largely because the High Court considered it too soon to assess the impact of fees, given that the hearing took place back in early autumn and only a matter of weeks after fees were introduced. Now that further data is available, UNISON is likely to seek permission to rely on it as additional evidence to support its claims.’
Mead added that the judicial review proceedings, while increasing pressure of the government to act, are not the only proceedings the government will be concerned about. Separate proceedings for judicial review are pending in the Scottish court system, but are currently stayed pending the outcome of UNISON’s case.
He continued: ‘The government has committed to keeping the fees and remission schemes under review. We do not expect any formal appraisal to start in earnest until much later this year. However, the sustained and significant drop in claim numbers will increase the pressure on the government to reconsider the levels at which fees have been set and/or the way the remission scheme operates.
‘If, ultimately, there is a change, whether as a result of UNISON’s claim or the government’s review, it seems most likely that the outcome will be a reduction in the fees payable, or an adjustment of the remission scheme, rather than a wholesale repeal. Eventually, therefore, we may see an increase in the number of claims, although it is unlikely they will reach the levels we have seen in the past.’