Business aid: Dean Wilson LLP

Ian Wilson of local solicitors Dean Wilson LLP answers questions on employment law. This week: Employment Tribunals

Q. I understand that there are substantial changes occurring later this year in relation to Employment Tribunals. Could you explain what they are?
A. As from the summer of this year people making applications to Tribunals will, for the first time, have to pay a fee. For a simple claim for non-payment of wages the fee will be £160 and if the matter goes as far a Tribunal hearing the Claimant will then have to pay another hearing fee of £230 i.e. a total of £390 for bringing the claim.

All other claims such as unfair dismissal and discrimination attract a higher initial fee of £250 and a swingeing fee of £950 for the hearing.

Q. If an employee wins a claim at the Tribunal does he get those fees back?
A. In most cases the Tribunals do not award any costs against either party regardless of the result but they will now be able, and probably always will, award the employee a refund of these fees to be paid by the unsuccessful employer.

Q. What happens if an employee cannot afford to pay these fees but still has a good case?
A. If the employee is in receipt of certain state benefits such as Income Support or Income Based Job Seekers Allowance there will be no fee. If the employee is not in this category but has a gross income (in the last year) of below £13,000 or in the case of an employee with a partner and two children £23,860 per annum then again no fee is payable. There are further complicated rules about disposable income if neither of the above two exemptions apply but essentially to qualify for having to pay no fee the disposable income is going to have to be very low indeed.

Q. What impact do you think this will have on the number of claims?
A. This, together with the new two year qualification period, is likely to have quite a serious impact on the number of claims being submitted to Tribunals. I believe a lot of people will fall outside of the qualification for no fee and the prospect of having to pay a total of £1,200 to bring a claim may well deter many people from even starting the process. I also think it will mean that there will be fewer settlements of cases because canny employers will wait to see whether the employee can afford to pay the hearing fee of £950 before even discussing settlement and of course many employees may then find they cannot afford that fee and have to give up at that stage.

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