The Ministry of Justice has started consulting on charging claimants in the employment tribunal fees for filing claims and appealing decisions.

The Government wants to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of about £2,500 per claim brought. Judges earn £110k per year, with panel members each earning £185 per sitting day. It’s currently free to bring a claim (except for fees paid to a party’s own legal representatives).

The last time the Government charged employment tribunal fees (2013) it was a two-tiered system depending on complexity, basically £160 or £250 to start the claim plus £230 or £950 for a final hearing. The unions brought legal action which resulted in them being found to be unlawful in 2017 on the basis that the higher fee was discriminatory towards those bringing discrimination claims, who were more likely to be non-White and female. The Government had to pay back £30m to claimants who had paid fees.

The new proposal is to charge a flat rate of £55 per claim, whether it goes to a hearing or not. This is only going to raise about 2% of the operating budget of the employment tribunal system. But it should deter the more hopeless claims.

A new £55 fee would be levied for any appeal to the EAT.

As with the court system, low-income claimants would  be able to apply for reimbursement of employment tribunal fees under the Help with Fees scheme.

The Government’s intention is to start charging fees from November 2024.

Employment cases are among only a few areas of law for which fees are not charged. That means a disgruntled employee with time on their hands can put in a claim online without much disincentive. The Government is concerned with decreasing red tape to businesses, which includes reducing the number of ET cases. Case numbers have increased from around 18,000 per year in 2016/17 to 33,000 in 2022/23. Claim numbers almost halved when fees were last introduced.

But, bearing in mind the fee remission scheme, we think it unlikely that employment tribunal fees of £55 will cause most would-be claimants to think twice.