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Employment Tribunals — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 12th March 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 11:15 am, 12th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the recent changes in the procedures to access tribunal hearings, and whether these changes have been beneficial to employees.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as part of a series of employment tribunal reforms, early conciliation was introduced in April 2014. It provides a robust mechanism to resolve employment disputes without the formalities of a courtroom setting. We are closely monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of early conciliation, and initial signs are encouraging. ACAS has already recorded nearly 60,000 employee notifications, with more than 90% of those involved willing to give the service a try.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but there are still instances where people want to take their case to a tribunal but can do so only if they are able to pay a fee of as much as £1,000 to get a hearing. That is quite unacceptable. Do the Government think that if people cannot afford to pay that to get their hearing they should simply put up with the situation as it is and get on with it? I do not think that that is acceptable, and certainly it is not beneficial to the employee. The bad employer may quite like it, but the good employer does not, and an employee who is disabled and generally upset really would like to get a hearing before a tribunal.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the point of early conciliation is to encourage claimants not to go to an employment tribunal. Ninety per cent of employees agree with the system and want to work with the conciliation service. Under the new arrangements, 60.5% of cases that went to early conciliation did not proceed to an employment tribunal, and 16.3% of cases were settled. For those who want to go to an employment tribunal, there is a fee remission system based on savings. Broadly, people whose monthly income is below a certain level do not have to pay. Anyone who receives means-tested benefits does not have to pay or gets a reduced fee.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My Lords, the costs involved in going to an employment tribunal are still a deterrent, even taking into account what the Minister said. I ask him to reflect on the fact that, even when you have won your claim at an employment tribunal, the matter does not end there; it depends on the employer paying the award. In a situation where an employer does not pay—I have referred to this previously, including last night—there is a penalty and they are fined, but still no money goes to the successful claimant. Will the Government consider dealing with the costs to a claimant in having to go through the courts to get their award?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I take the noble Lord’s point. If people are ordered to pay awards, they should pay them. We are going to implement a review—or the next Government is—and that is something that can be considered at that time.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

Why cannot the Minister simply agree to review—?

Noble Lords:

Order!

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Labour

My Lords, is not the whole point of having an arbitration system where most claims are settled that those which are not settled are the ones that have to be litigated, because there is no agreement? For there to be a just system, there has to be accessible to that litigant an opportunity to do that. Does the Minister not take the point made by noble friend Lady Turner that if the fee for so doing is prohibitive, the person with a just claim, where the employers will not settle, has nowhere to go?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not accept the noble and learned Baroness’s premise. If the cost of the fees was prohibitive and stopped people going to an employment tribunal, that would be the case, but there are many reasons why people do not go to employment tribunals: the level of fees is not the only one. The fee reduction programme that we have in place is there specifically to allow people of limited means to access employment tribunals, as is their right.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, what is the income level that debars people?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As far as the capital is concerned, it is savings of over £3,000—

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I was going to come to the income level. There is a series of levels. I can give some examples. An applicant who has a partner and two children and a joint income of £1,735 per month will not have to pay anything towards the fee. Another example is an applicant with an average UK couple’s income of £2,700 with two children would have to contribute £480 towards the fee.