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In July 2013, the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order introduced fees for bringing a claim to the Employment Tribunal (ET) and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The stated aims were to transfer part of the tribunals' running costs from taxpayers to those using the service, to deter unmeritorious claims and to encourage earlier settlement.
The introduction of fees was rigorously challenged by the public service trade union Unison on the basis that they made it 'virtually impossible, or excessively difficult' for many people of modest means to exercise their right to bring an ET claim and also discriminated against employees with a protected characteristic.
In July this year, in a decision which emphasised the right of everyone to have affordable access to the justice system, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fees Order was unlawful (R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor).
In light of the Supreme Court's judgment, the Ministry of Justice announced that the Government would cease charging ET fees immediately and take steps to refund payments made since 2013 – no easy task.
The first stage of the fee refund scheme has now been announced.
Up to around 1,000 people will be contacted and given the chance to complete applications before the full scheme is opened up in the coming weeks.
Successful applicants to the scheme will not only be refunded the fee amount but will also be paid interest at a rate of 0.5 per cent, calculated from the date of the original payment up until the refund date.
This opening phase of the refund scheme will last for around four weeks. Further details, including information on how it can be accessed, will be made available when the scheme is rolled out fully.
Further information can be found on the Government's website.