Union victory over Employment Tribunal fees



The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government’s sky-high tribunal fees are unlawful, accepting UNISON’s argument that the fees are restricting working people’s access to justice.

What’s more, the government will have to refund any fees paid since 2013 — at a cost of about £27m.


It’s a massive win for working people, and we congratulate UNISON for doggedly pursuing this case.

When tribunal fees of up to £1,200 per case were introduced in 2013, it very quickly became clear that many working people could no longer afford to uphold their rights at work.

The number of cases taken has dropped by nearly 70%. Low-paid and insecure workers have all but lost their ability to take cases, whether on non-payment of the national minimum wage, unauthorised deductions from pay, or even unfair dismissal. Only union members and the well-off were guaranteed access to justice.

And the number of discrimination cases has gone through the floor too, hurting women, workers with disabilities, black and minority ethnic and LGBT+ workers who have been unfairly treated or harassed.

The fees have been a bonanza for bad bosses, giving them a free rein to mistreat staff. As UNISON rightly argued, access to the courts is a vital component of the rule of law. Working rights aren’t worth the paper they’re written on unless they can be enforced.

This is a resounding defeat for the government, and they must act immediately to implement the court’s finding. Any fees paid should be refunded as soon as possible. But even then, we’ll never know how many people have missed out on justice over the last four years because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

Above all, today’s result shows the value of working people standing together in trade unions. This decision will have a lasting impact, making sure people can enforce their employment rights.

The government priced workers out of justice, sending the message that fair treatment is a luxury, not a right. They’ve been proved wrong.

Today’s victory is a great example of the value of working people standing together in trade unions.

Thanks for your support,

Frances O’Grady
TUC General Secretary

Further reading:
Unison: A massive win for our union and a massive win for all workers: https://www.unison.org.uk/news/2017/07/massive-win-union-massive-win-workers/
TUC: Employment Tribunal Fees found to be unlawful: http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2017/07/employment-tribunal-fees-found-unlawful/




Discrimination at work allowed to “flourish unchecked” as employment tribunal claims fall sharply in the Midlands, says TUC    4 November 2016

TUC condemns steep fees which allow bad bosses to get away with discrimination and unfair treatment.

New analysis published by the TUC show that the number of working people in the Midlands challenging discrimination or unfair treatment at work has fallen sharply since charges of up to £1,200 came in.  

The analysis shows that since employment tribunal fees were introduced sex discrimination claims have fallen by a staggering 9 in 10 (-91%) in the region.  And there have been sharp falls in challenges over unfair dismissal (-70%), race discrimination (-68%) and disability discrimination (-63%) claims.

The TUC says the figures show that a key mechanism to stamp out discrimination and stop unfair sackings is broken, allowing discrimination to “flourish unchecked”.

The Ministry of Justice was due to publish a review on the impact of fees by the end of 2015. However, nearly a year on, nothing has happened. The TUC says the review must be published urgently and is calling on Theresa May and Phillip Hammond to abolish fees in next month’s Autumn Statement.


TUC Regional Secretary Lee Barron said:

“These figures show a huge drop in Midlands workers seeking justice when they’ve been unfairly treated. Now bosses know they can get away with it, discrimination at work can flourish unchecked and people can be sacked without good reason.

“The evidence is there for all to see. These fees – of up to £1200, even if you’re on the minimum wage – are pricing out thousands each month from pursuing cases.

“Theresa May has repeatedly said she wants to govern for ordinary working people. Here is a perfect opportunity. She could reverse employment tribunal fees, and make sure workers can challenge bad employers in court.”  


Claims being taken to employment tribunal in the Midlands


Disability discrimination

Race discrimination

Sex discrimination

Unfair dismissal












63% drop

68% drop

91% drop

70% drop

 Source: Ministry of Justice


– Under the current fees system, workers have to pay up to £1,200 to take claim to tribunal, including minimum wage workers if a member of their household has savings of £3,000.


– The number of single claim cases has fallen by 69% between 2012/13 and 2015/16. The number of multiple claim cases (where more than one person brings a claim against the same employer) has fallen by 79%.


– Acas figures for 2015/16 show that they received notification of over 90,000 employment disputes and 65% of these were not settled by Acas or did not progress to an employment tribunal.


– In June 2015/16 the Justice Select Committee carried out a review of court and tribunal fees and it concluded “the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims” and “if there were to be a binary choice between income from fees and preservation of access to justice, the latter must prevail as a matter of broader public policy.”

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