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Tribunal Fees: Justice gets harder to obtain for the poor

"It's not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £84m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal" says Jonathan Djanogly, as he introduces steep fees to bring Employment Tribunal claims. Claimants will pay £1,200 for Unfair Dismissal, Discrimination and other claims; where claims for wages and Redundancy pay will cost £390 to enforce to a hearing. Fee relief will be available to those on benefits.On the most recent evidence available, the median Unfair Dismissal award was, for 2010-2011, £4,591. To pursue this, a claimant will need to pay £250 as an issue fee; and a further £950 to go to a hearing. Risking £1,200 to enforce a claim worth £4,500 won't make sense for many. Yet now more than ever, £4,500 would make a real difference to a working family suffering from an Unfair Dismissal. Of course, the majority of claims that our department deals with are worth substantially more, and with appropriate advice, there will be many claims that should still be enforced. But given that claimants are under a duty to mitigate their loss by searching for alternative employment, then someone who responsibly does this may simply find that it is not worth seeking justice against an employer who has acted unlawfully. Unsurprisingly, employers and their representatives are pleased about the fees.Djanogly says: "We want people, where they can, to pay a fair contribution for the system they are using, which will encourage them to look for alternatives." Will it? I wonder. What alternatives will an unqualified, low paid worker have? Off hand, I can't really think of many. Joining a trade union would be a good alternative but I'm not sure that's the one that Djanogly has in mind.In the County Court, they have worked with a sliding scale of fees, based on the assessment of the value of the claim. In the County Court, the issue fees range from £35 to £1670 where claims exceed £300,000. I don't support fees at all, as I think that the tribunal system is different in principle to the court system; yet a graduated system of fees based on claim value, makes more sense if the real reasoning is to offset the costs of the service.But are we really talking about fairness to the taxpayer? Or is it really a case of using a blunt instrument to force down case numbers?

By Alison Humphry, Employment Law Expert