February 07, 2014 - Rachel Miller
A mounting backlog of more than 600,000 employment tribunal cases is putting the system under "critical" strain, according to law firm EMW.
Figures calculated by EMW, using data from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, show there were 625,371 outstanding employment tribunal cases to the end of Q3 2013. This represents a rise of 10% over the previous year, and is almost two and a half times greater than it was five years ago.
And there's no sign of the problem abating – employment tribunal cases are now more likely to drag on, as the fees intended to reduce cases actually discourage parties from backing down, says EMW's Jon Taylor.
To discourage vexatious employment tribunal claims, all new claimants have had to pay an upfront issuing and hearing fee of up to £250 and £950 respectively since July 2013. New cases also have to go through mandatory conciliation, but Taylor said: "Ironically, now that there are significant fees involved aimed at acting as a deterrent to taking a case all the way through to a tribunal hearing, there's actually far less reason for either side to back down and conciliate."
The employment tribunals system is so overstretched that cases are taking years. "This massive backlog in the employment tribunal system just keeps on getting worse and worse," Taylor said. "It is a real drain on management time, particularly for SMEs who are unlikely to have their own in-house lawyers or dedicated HR team to deal with claims."
Tribunal claims have increased steadily over the past few years, not helped by a huge surge in claims in 2009-10 when redundancy rates were high. Figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service show that between 2010-11 there was a 44% rise in employment tribunal cases, compared to 2008-09. And the number of cases is still rising – between October and December 2012 claims rose by 14% compared to the same period in 2011.
Claims for unfair dismissal are among the largest growth areas of tribunal cases. Only 10% of cases are ruled in favour of the claimant, but each claim puts employers through an average of £8,500 in defence costs, or at the very least £5,400 – the typical out of court settlement according to EMW.