Tribunal Fees to be abolished in Scotland – The start of a wider initiative?
Employment Tribunal Fees could be completely abolished in Scotland over the next 12 months, according to the Scottish Government.
The First Minister revealed the plans in its “Programme for Government’, a document which outlines the legislative agenda for the year ahead.
This represents a radical shift away from the UK Government’s policy of charging for access to the Employment Tribunal system, which has been in place for over 2 years.
The Introduction of UK Tribunal Fees
Before 2013, there was no fee payable for issuing proceedings in UK Employment Tribunals.
Since 29th July 2013, when UK Government then gave powers to charge fees, Claimants have had to make a payment of up to £250 to issue a claim and up to a further £950 if the matter proceeding to a hearing.
Although a scheme was intended to reduce or waive the fees for those unable to pay, the fees have resulted in a drop in claims – which some estimate at as high as 79%.
The number of claims filed fell even more than the Government anticipated.
Challenges to the Tribunal Fees
With a significant drop in claims, the legislation has suffered widespread and vocal criticism from Unions, Charities and the Law Society.
Employers have been following Unison’s three challenges of the fees regime in the UK with interest.
The basis of Unison’s claims was that the fees were an unfair and disproportionate barrier for people to access the justice system.
However, all three separate attempts to overturn the fees in the courts have been turned down on the basis that there is insufficient data to prove a link between the drop in claims and the introduction of fees.
Reaction to the Scottish abolition of the fees
The news about the Scottish Government’s abolition of fees may be welcomed by Unions because of the easier access to justice that this will bring.
It will also give the opportunity for some genuinely comparative evidence for the courts to consider. It’s clear that there has been a massive drop in claims in the UK following the introduction in fees.
Those in favour of fees regime change will no doubt be hoping that there is a significant increase in claims in Scotland once the fees are scrapped, thus providing clear evidence of a link which could further support a challenge in the UK.
Our Tribunal Advocacy Team will of course be on hand to support you through the possible increase in claims and we will of course keep you abreast any developments regarding Employment Tribunal fees.
By Stuart Morley