Access denied – Fees for tribunals consultation opens

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Thompsons Solicitors weekly blog

 

Fees for pursuing employment tribunals are expected to come in at the end of July, though a letter to stakeholders from the Courts and Tribunals Services is vague about the date and whether the systems will be ready.

 

In fact, now that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has passed into law, there’s a long list of employment law changes that the government has yet to give clear implementation dates for [see this week’s LELR weekly].

 

A consultation on how the fees remission system will work in practice was expected last autumn but has only recently opened. It closes on 16 May.

 

The government’s stated aim is that through fees it will achieve 100% recovery of the costs of running the system. Given that targets below full cost recovery have already been agreed with the Treasury, I wonder what the point of consultation on fees remission is?

 

Not that many claimants will qualify under the government’s proposals anyway.

 

If an applicant has too much “disposable capital” there will be no remission and no need to consider income levels. Disposable capital includes such things as jointly held capital, ISAs, savings and redundancy payments. The test has been set to “prevent fee remissions being paid to wealthy individuals”.

 

An individual or a couple with savings of as little as £3,000 will be expected to pay up to a third on fees. This rises to a half for those with £8,000 put away for leaner times. Nothing is said about the practical problems of liquidating capital assets within the three-month time limit for lodging a claim.

 

An applicant who passes the disposable capital test is then subject to an income test, which is now based on gross monthly, not annual income. No explanation is given for this, nor for the fact that the income threshold is being slashed at the same time.

 

A single person’s lower threshold remains at about £13,000, but a couple’s threshold drops from £18,000 to £15,000 – a mere £2,000 above that of a single person. The minimum wage for one person working 40 hours a week is just under £13,000. So is the majority of the population “wealthy” on this analysis?

 

A partner’s income is taken into account on the basis that “both the applicant and their partner gain financially or otherwise from the use of a court or tribunal”. Income levels must be proved by showing their last three months bank statements.

 

No account is taken of the fact that those claiming unfair dismissal or unlawful deduction from wages will no longer be in receipt of the income those statements show.

 

And if you want to retrospectively claim a remission you must do so within two months – so there’s not much chance to produce three months of post-dismissal bank statements.

 

These proposals have nothing to do with making the wealthy pay, or saving the taxpayer money. As we have come to expect from this government, the bar to qualify for remissions is being set so deliberately high that it will simply deter people pursuing legitimate employment tribunal claims, denying access to justice to those who need it most.

 

 

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