The Scottish Government has announced its intention to abolish employment tribunal fees in “A Stronger Scotland: The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-2016”
They state “we will abolish fees for employment tribunals – ensuring that employees have a fair opportunity to have their case heard”. This can be seen at page 3 of the document (page 6 in the PDF) and the intention is again stated at page 6 of the document (page 9 of the PDF).
The initial justification for introducing employment tribunal fees was to ensure that the tribunal service was at least partly funded by its users. However, the abolition of tribunal fees in Scotland has been anticipated since it was announced that employment tribunals and their funding would be devolved to Scotland.
Since the fee regime was introduced, there has been a marked drop-off in the number of claims. If/when fees are abolished in Scotland we are likely to see a significant increase in the number of claims being raised. However, whether numbers will return to pre-fee levels is unclear, especially given the introduction of the Acas early conciliation regime.
We still do not have any definitive guidance on when the Scottish Government will abolish the fee regime. It will also be interesting to see what other changes may be made to the rules surrounding the jurisdiction of the employment tribunals North of the border. The abolition of fees in Scotland may encourage jurisdiction shopping by claimants unless the rules on where an employee may competently bring a claim are tightened up at the same time.
The future of employment fees UK wide remains uncertain as Unison continues to challenge their legality through the courts. While the Court of Appeal recently rejected Unison’s arguments, Unison intends to raise a further appeal to the Supreme Court. The UK Government have recently commenced a review of the tribunal fee regime, the outcome of which is eagerly anticipated. Our recent update on tribunal fees is available here.