Employers are divided on employment tribunal fees as cases drop by 70%

New research by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, found that the majority of employers said that it should be left as it is, but a similar number believe that the fees should be either significantly reduced or abolished altogether and a quarter were undecided on what should be done.

The report, Conflict Management: A Shift in Direction?, is based on a survey of 1,000 employers and highlights the CIPD’s call for business to take a more proactive approach to managing conflict in the workplace while exploring the impact of recent legislative changes, such as fees. It closely follows calls from Business Secretary Vince Cable for a review of the new fees system to be progressed “as a matter of urgency”.

Commenting on the report, the Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “It’s vital that the employment tribunal system strikes the right balance between employee and employer protection. I welcome this report from the CIPD and its valuable insights. The fact that employers are so split over whether the introduction of tribunal fees has been a good or a bad thing further reinforces the need for a review, despite opposition in some quarters. I’ve now set one in motion in my Department‎.”

The fee system was introduced as claims can cost employers several thousand pounds and an average of 19 working days for each individual case. Currently, employees can expect to pay up to £1,200 to bring a claim before an employee tribunal, a fee put in place in order to reduce the number of weak or vexatious claims. The knock-on effect of this has been a 70 per cent drop in single claims made between April to June 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

Mike Emmott, Employee Relations Adviser for the CIPD, comments: “The introduction of fees has had a major impact on the behaviour of both employees and employers. The drop in claim volumes is unprecedented and shows just how far the terms of trade have shifted. Employers have long complained about the damaging effect that weak or unsubstantiated claims have on their business but given the staggering drop in claims since, it must be the case that some perfectly valid claims have been discouraged as a result of the new fees. Fees may not make it impossible for claimants to pursue their case but they’ve certainly made it more difficult, which begs the question: are we putting too high a price on justice?”

“It’s unlikely that the current fees regime will survive the General Election in May by many months as all three major political parties have indicated an intention to review it. Assuming that fees survive in some shape or form, it will be important to get the balance right between having a fee structure that is simple to understand and one that is proportionate to the type of claim being made.”

The reduction in claims volumes is accompanied by greater support for alternative forms of dispute resolution that seek to strike a balance between formal discipline and grievance processes, and more informal methods such as early conciliation and mediation.