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Supreme Court Rules Government's Employment Tribunal Fees Unlawful

The Supreme Court has ruled that the fees imposed on those bringing Employment Tribunal claims by the Government are unlawful and unconstitutional.

The Government’s main aim for introducing fees of up to £1200 per claim was to reduce the amount of weak and malicious cases against employers. Their decision to do so has dramatically reduced the amount of claims by 79% over the last three years.

The Courts decision comes in after the Trade union Unison argued the Government’s fee introduction hindered workers from accessing justice and had allowed many employers to break the law and treat staff badly with no real consequence as employees could not afford to take the case to a tribunal.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary stated that the Government had been acting unlawfully and that now have “been proved wrong- not just on simple economics but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the Government would now be taking immediate steps to stop any charges for employment tribunal claims and to begin refunding payments.

This now means that the Government stands to repay up to £32m to claimants.

Past fees for tribunals have varied between £390 and £1200 depending on the type of case and in many situations the fees would render any potential financial reward from the tribunal pointless.

More complex and lengthy cases such as those of a discriminatory nature were shown to cost a claimant more.

The Supreme Court has found that the impact of fees caused an indirect discrimination against women as a higher proportion of females claims tribunal claims were of a discriminatory nature.

The summary from the Court also showed that claimants in low or middle income house holds could not afford the fees “without sacrificing ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time.”

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary notes the decision as a “massive win” for workers as “too many low- paid workers couldn’t afford to uphold their rights at work even when they’ve faces harassment or have been sacked unfairly.”

Deborah Scales, Head of Employment Law at Cartwright King comments:

“This is very good news for everybody who believes in the rule of law and access to justice. It is obviously great news for workers who have been deterred from pursuing their statutory rights due to the high cost of tribunal fees. On the other hand law abiding employers should not be concerned by the Supreme Court’s Judgment. Although tribunal claims dropped by around 70% since the introduction the fees in 2013, statistics suggest it was the high merit but low value claims, such a unpaid wages and holiday pay, that had fallen the most. This suggest that unscrupulous employers were gambling on the fact that workers were unlikely to enforce their statutory rights and failing to pay what was lawfully owed. Lord Reed, giving Judgment, relied on the fact that employment tribunal cases are important for society as a whole, not just the individuals involved.

"We are also very pleased that the Supreme Court has made it clear that all fees paid between 2013 and now will have to be refunded by the Lord Chancellor’s Department, and that the Lord Chancellor has agreed to do.”

If you would like any further information or advice in relation to Employment Tribunals or bringing claims against your employer, please contact our Employment Law Team on 0808 168 5550 or email

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