Lawyers say the introduction of fees to take cases to the Employment Tribunal (ET) has left many workers unable to enforce their rights.
The claim comes in a letter from solicitors’ professional body The Law Society to the Ministry of Justice, which is reviewing the effect of the fees over the two years since they came in.
The society says there has been a 67 per cent drop in the number of people taking disputes to the ET over that time and expressed concern that areas such as sex discrimination (87 per cent) and equal pay (70 per cent) have plunged even further.
They want to know how much the falls are due to the fees compared to the impact of other factors, such as the wider economic outlook and the introduction of early conciliation via dispute resolution service ACAS.
The letter says: “Discouraging employees from pursuing valid claims does not just harm the individual, it also puts many well-run businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to the minority who adopt a ‘less careful’ attitude to employment law.
“The society’s view is that ET fees have harmed access to justice and that, since July 2013, many people have not been able to enforce their employment rights.”
The society says fees – which can run to more than £1,000 in some circumstances – are high compared to average earnings and to the likely awards, and that many successful litigants do not have the fee refunded.
The fees were introduced in July 2013 with the aim of making the process more efficient reducing the burden of the ET on the taxpayer, making those who use the service pay where they can afford to.
They were also intended to encourage alternative dispute resolution methods, such as ACAS.
The review, which began in the summer and will be completed later this year, will assess how well these goals have been met and whether access to justice has been preserved.
It will examine all the relevant data, as well as taking into account the views of tribunal users, before consulting on any proposals for changes to the fees.