A total of 109,685 claims were accepted by employment tribunals over the financial year from April 2017 to March 2018, compared to 88,476 the previous year, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The number of appeals received also increased, by 12% to 996.
However, despite the increase in claims accepted by the tribunal, the number of successful claims has fallen over the same period. Awards were made in only 536 unfair dismissal cases this year, compared to 586 in 2016-17; and in 136 discrimination cases, compared to 158 in 2016-17.
Fees of up to £1,600 to bring an employment tribunal claim were introduced in 2013 and were charged until July 2017, when the Supreme Court held that the fees breached domestic and EU law. By June 2018 the government had issued over £10.6 million worth of refunds to 12,400 individuals under the employment tribunal fee refund scheme, according to the report.
Tribunal fees were introduced with the stated aims of transferring some of the costs of operating the tribunals from the taxpayer to those that use the service, encouraging earlier settlement and discouraging claims without merit. They coincided with the introduction of a new requirement to attempt to resolve cases by way of free conciliation via the government-backed Acas service before a case can proceed to tribunal.
The figures do not yet show a return to pre-fee levels of tribunal activity, said employment law expert Jon Fisher of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. However, he said that the trend was clear, and that employers would be wise to review their approach to dealing with employee disputes.
"The overall figures can be distorted by mass litigation like the equal pay claims in the retail sector, but the number of unfair dismissal claims is a useful bellwether," he said. "In the first six months of 2017, when fees were still in force, there were 5,957 claims. This increased to 9,880 in the first six months of this year, an increase of 67% - although still less than half the number of claims that were received in the six months before fees came into force in 2013."
"While the litigation risk remains lower than it used to be, now that there are no barriers to employees bringing a claim, employers should review their approach to risk and to dealing with Acas early conciliations. Some employers had adopted an approach of refusing to engage in conciliation and then waiting to see if the employee would pay the claim fee, but that approach may no longer be fit for purpose," he said.