The United Kingdom embarked on an interesting social experiment in 2013 and began to require an administrative fee from anyone filing a claim through an employment tribunal. For those unfamiliar with the UK’s employment laws, the employment tribunals are where individuals file claims that generally seek compensation for unfair or unlawful employment experiences against a current or previous employer. The number of claims filed had reached an average of 13,500 per quarter in 2013 when, that same year, the UK government initiated an administrative fee of £250 to file a tribunal claim, and then an additional hearing fee of £950, for a total of £1200 (or about $1620 USD).

The result? Claims plunged to a monthly average of less than 2000. This past summer, however, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the fees were unlawful because they denied many people access to courts as guaranteed under UK constitutional law.

What happened? The fees were meant to deter frivolous claims, but after the fees were implemented, the opposite happened: the proportionate number of unsuccessful (because unmerited) claims increased. It was hoped that the fees would encourage private settlements between employers and individuals, but in fact, employers began delaying negotiations to see if the aggrieved individual would first have the resources to file a claim.

This was the biggest problem: The fees were high enough to make this process unaffordable for individuals with potentially legitimate concerns.  Disproportionate numbers of these discouraged claimants were women, minorities and the disabled, as Amelia Gentleman points out in The Guardian, citing a 2014 TUC report: “The number of women taking pregnancy-discrimination claims fell by 26%. Race discrimination cases have dropped by 60% over that period, while disability claims have fallen by 46%.”[1]

The Supreme Court ruling essentially undoes the fee system and requires fees paid since 2013 to be refunded. How this will work precisely is still being sorted out, impacted by the fact that the tribunals reduced their staffing levels when the volume of claims plunged. Claims will now likely rise again, and combined with the refund ruling, the entire tribunal process will probably be challenged for at least the next six months, if not longer.    An ignominious and now frustrating end to a curious social experiment!

[1] Gentleman, Amelia. “Priced Out of Court: Why Workers Can’t Fight Employment Tribunals.” The

Guardian, 17 Aug. 2014, Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.