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Employment Tribunal Fees found to be unlawful

Published date
Following UNISON’s legal challenge, the Supreme Court has, today, ruled that employment tribunal fees are unlawful because they price workers out of accessing justice and discriminate against women.

This means that from today, employment tribunal fees will no longer apply and that all previous fees that have been paid will have to be repaid.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld each of UNISON’s arguments against employment tribunal fees.  They found that the Fees Order:

  1. Restricted access to justice;
    • As the Supreme Court said, “Fees must be affordable not in a theoretical sense, but in the sense that they can reasonably be afforded. Where households on low to middle incomes can only afford fees by forgoing an acceptable standard of living, the fees cannot be regarded as affordable”.
  2. Limited Parliament’s role in granting employment rights and how they should be enforced;
  3. And, discriminated unlawfully against women
    • As the Supreme Court said, “The Fees Order is indirectly discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 because the higher fees for type B claims put women at a particular disadvantage because a higher proportion of women bring type B than bring type A claims.”

The victory today is one of the most significant employment law judgments for a generation.  It is a massive step towards ensuring that working people can enforce their employment rights.  It is a clear example of trade unions standing up for all working people.  The Supreme Court judgment smashes down a financial barrier which was pricing workers out of justice.  From today, all working people will be able to enforce their rights without having to worry about whether they can afford the fee.  All claimants who have previously paid a tribunal fee will have to be reimbursed.  Abolishing fees restores access to the tribunals and means that future significant decisions (which might not have been heard) can have wide ranging consequences for all workplaces.

Government statistics have shown that employment claims across the board fell by 67% following the introduction of fees.  However, some groups of workers were affected disproportionately.  Victims of discrimination, workers who had wages unfairly docked, workers who have been unfairly sacked were amongst the groups who really found it unaffordable to bring a claim to employment tribunal.

Today’s decision will also have a positive knock on effect leading to more disputes being resolved in the workplace.  It’s been widely recognised, including in evidence given to the recent government review on tribunal fees, that bad bosses have become emboldened due to workers being less likely to pursue an employment tribunal claim.

Huge congratulations to UNISON for this landmark victory.  Today’s victory is a massive step to improving working peoples’ ability to enforce their employment rights.  And it is a great example of the value of working people standing together in trade unions.

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