The government has kicked off the rollout of refunds for employment tribunal fees, and confirmed that employers that have paid the controversial costs could also be eligible for a repayment.
In July, the Supreme Court decided that employment tribunal fees were unlawful and should be scrapped. The judges also ruled that all fees paid since they were first introduced in July 2013 should be refunded.
Dominic Raab, justice minister, announced late last week that the government would immediately launch the first stage of the refund programme. Over the next four weeks, the Ministry of Justice will write to up to 1,000 individuals who have previously paid fees to invite them to take part in the programme. The first group of 1,000 will be selected from those who have contacted the ministry since the fees were abolished this summer.
The government will then aim to roll out the full refund scheme in November. At that stage, employers that have been ordered by a tribunal to reimburse an opponent’s fees, and can prove they have done so, will be eligible for a refund at this stage. However, those that repaid employees under a private settlement will not be able to claim a refund through the system.
Raab said further guidance on how to claim a refund will be available when the scheme is rolled out in full. Essentially, parties looking to receive a refund will be asked to fill out a form including details of the employment tribunal claim they were involved in and the fees they paid. This will then be checked against the records held by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
Those who get their fees refunded will also be paid interest at 0.5 per cent, calculated from the date the fees were paid.
The Ministry of Justice is also setting up a pre-registration scheme, where those who were not invited to take part in the initial rollout can register their interest for the full scheme when it is launched.
The decision came as a result of a case brought by trade union Unison, which argued that the fees were illegal as they were introduced under a piece of secondary legislation rather than a full Act of Parliament.
“The government got it very wrong on fees, as ministers found to their cost when they lost at the Supreme Court in the summer,” said Adam Creme, head of legal services at Unison. “But the real tragedy of the fees fiasco is the thousands of wronged employees who couldn't afford to shell out to get justice and so lost out. Nothing can be done to help them, or to bring the many unscrupulous employers, that broke the law and got away with it, to court.”