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The government’s consultation document outlining its plans to reform the employment tribunal system has solicited a range of views.

The employment tribunal’s system is among the last of the major parts to be reformed under the government’s £1bn modernisation initiative for the courts service.

The reforms, aimed at speeding up the process, increasing access to justice, reducing its complexity and costs to the taxpayer, include digitising the procedure so that claims are made and processed online. Part of the consultation asked for views on the types of cases that might be suitable for online determinations. But the government has said it recognises the concerns expressed about its relevance in complex cases such as discrimination and the accessibility issues for vulnerable users.

The reform programme would not change the availability of the early conciliation process that occurs before a claim can come to a tribunal.

There is a strong view that alongside reform of the system, the government should review tribunal fees. The Law Society has called for a reversal of the fees, which have been sighted by some as the reason for the significant reduction in the number of people using the tribunal system since their introduction in 2013.

The government’s recent consultation document on employment tribunal fees has indicated that it believes they have broadly met their objectives. With users contributing between £8.5 million and £9 million a year in fee income and the free ACAS’s conciliation service helping just under half the people who refer disputes to them avoiding the need to go to a tribunal. While acknowledging that the fall in the number of claims has been significantly greater than was estimated, and that there was evidence that fees have discouraged some people from bringing proceedings; the government remains satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards in place to make sure that fees do not prevent people from bringing claims.  As a result, the government is consulting on proposals for changes to extend the scope of support available to people on lower incomes under its ‘Help with Fees’ scheme. As some of the proposed reforms will need changes to primary legislation, any implementation timetable is likely to be long and will depend on the availability of parliamentary time.

Under our Family Legal Expenses Insurance policy we cover the cost of both hearing and issue fees, which has seen a far lower drop in Tribunal claims than privately funded cases, as outlined above. In addition, we have extended the Legal Helpline service to provide policyholders with advice and guidance throughout the ACAS Early Conciliation process.

Please contact your account manager for further information.

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