The union Unison has won a landmark court victory today against the government, which means that employment tribunal fees will now be scrapped.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.
“When ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old”
As a result of the judgement, from today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court.
The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals since the fees were introduced in July 2013.
The refund figure is based on the government’s own review published, which was published in January, and showed that £27m was collected in fees from 2012-16.
Under the former rules, anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer had to find as much as £1,200.
Fees started at around £160 for a type A claim – for example wage claims or breach of contract – and £250 for a type B claim – unfair dismissal or race and sex discrimination. There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for type A and £950 for type B claims.
“Workplace tribunal fees denied justice to workers who had been mistreated”
The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by the union to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.
The seven Supreme Court judges claimed the government had misunderstood “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.
The judges also said the fees were set so high that it “had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and had also put off more genuine cases.
In addition, they said the fees particularly deterred the kind of “low-value” claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.
They added that access to justice was of value to society as a whole, especially where cases established legal rules and principles of general importance.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “When ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.
“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too,” he said.
“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere,” he said. “Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.
“These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.
“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”
Jon Skewes, the Royal College of Midwives’ director for policy, employment relations and communications, congratulated Unison on an “important victory”.
“Workplace tribunal fees denied justice to workers who had been mistreated in the workplace and they were plainly unfair and unjust,” he said.
“The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 was a disgraceful and cynical move to price ordinary people out of exercising their rights and effectively giving a free pass to bad bosses,” he added.
In response to the ruling, The Ministry of Justice said the government would take steps “immediately” to stop charging and refund payments.
Justice minister Dominic Raab said: “We respect the judgement and we are going to take it fully on board and we are going to comply with it.
“The tricky, the difficult, the fluid balancing act that we’ve got is we want to make sure there’s proper access to justice, we want to make sure frivolous or spurious claims don’t clog up the tribunal and at the same time we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right way to fund it.,” he added.