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Tribunal fees discouraging conciliation

Increased tribunal fees have had the unintended consequence of making employers less likely to seek early conciliation, the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee has been told.
 
It has become the belief that higher fees will prevent employees from going to tribunal. Employers are therefore biding their time and waiting for them to make a move first, before engaging with the complaint. “There is far more of a shift towards employers just saying ‘no, issue your claim and then we’ll talk’,” discrimination law specialist Douglas Johnson told the House of Lords group.
 
The tribunal system was overhauled 18 months ago. Since May 2014, employees have had to use ACAS’s early conciliation service to try to reach an agreement with their employers about unfair dismissal or cases of harassment or discrimination. The hope was that this new initiative would save money in court and enable both employers and employees to reach a more beneficial outcome than if the case was dragged through the legal system – which can be a lengthy and costly process.
 
However, the rise in fees that accompanied this has meant that canny employers have calculated it is in their interests to stonewall during the mediation process and force employees to take their case to tribunal after all. The employees have to pay a fee that they may not be able afford – meaning they may not want to take the risk in the end, after all.
 
The problem is being compounded by the cuts to the legal aid budget, which means that some of the poorest claimants are granted no help to bring their cases to tribunal. The result is that unlawful practices in the workplace are going unpunished, and the Equality Act cannot adequately be enforced. Unscrupulous employers are, effectively, being incentivised to take a gamble now that the odds are better in their favour.

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