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Fri, 26 February 2021

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REVEALED: Millions still owed to workers over axed tribunal fees scheme introduced by Chris Grayling

REVEALED: Millions still owed to workers over axed tribunal fees scheme introduced by Chris Grayling
3 min read

Labour has accused ministers of “dragging their feet” as new figures revealed that millions of pounds are still owed to workers forced to pay fees under an ill-fated scheme brought in by Chris Grayling.

The High Court last year ordered the Government to scrap employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 which were brought in by the then-Justice Secretary in 2013 in a bid to cut down on vexatious claims against companies.

But critics warned that the hefty charges would stop workers from being able to challenge their bosses over unfair sackings and discrimination, and trade union Unison last year won a High Court bid to see the fees struck down.

Following the ruling - which found that the scheme had been "destined to infringe constitutional rights" - ministers vowed to ditch the charges and refund those who had had to pay them over the four-year period they were in place.

But new figures show that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has so far refunded less than a quarter of the £32m in fees netted by the Government while the charges were in force.

The MoJ stats show that, almost one year on from the High Court ruling, just £6.5m of the £32m total has been handed back to people who had to pay up.

Labour blasted the Ministry of Justice over the delay, and urged ministers to speed up the process.

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon told PoliticsHome: "The Tories fought tooth and nail to keep these unfair and unlawful fees.

"Now they are dragging their feet on paying back what they owe, while also threatening to re-impose this barrier to justice.

"Ministers must now commit to ensuring people are repaid in a timely manner and drop their cynical plans to bring back these fees."

The MoJ’s figures also show that the backlog of people waiting for their employment tribunal cases to be heard has soared since the fees were lifted, raising fears that the courts service - which has plans to axe thousands more staff over the next five years - may struggle to cope.

The latest stats show that there has been an 89% year-on-year spike in the MoJ’s “outstanding caseload” for single tribunal claims compared to the same time last year.

The average time taken to complete single claims has meanwhile soared from just two weeks in 2017 to a staggering 27 weeks in the latest figures.

An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: "Since launching our refund scheme in October we have been working hard to process refunds to those eligible.

"We are working with trade unions to get the message out and have also been sending around 10,000 letters a month to those people we think maybe eligible."

Separate Figures released to PoliticsHome under freedom of information show that the MoJ has already spent more than £10,000 writing to people who paid the charges to let them know about the U-turn - with the cost to the taxpayer expected to rise.

The department said: "There will be further costs associated in continuing to contact people who may be entitled to a refund, over the coming months, to ensure all those who paid fee in the Employment Tribunals are aware of the refund scheme and how to apply."


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