By Max Clarke

Employment law specialist Bibby Consulting & Support has backed calls for employees taking a company to tribunal to pay a fee which would be refunded if the claimant won the case.

The previous government looked into the idea nearly 10 years ago and the current coalition is now considering introducing a fee of anywhere between £30 and £500 after figures showed a 56 per cent rise in claims in the last 12 months. Although most of the 236,100 claims were group claims by trade unions or no-win, no-fee lawyers, cases brought by individual employees have gone up by 14 per cent.

Tribunal costs can be particularly prohibitive for smaller companies and the CBI has called the employment tribunals system "broken". Figures show that 0.13 per cent of cases last year involved a cost order for employees, with the average cost of £2,288, while all other hearing costs were paid by employers, even if they were the successful party. Also, roughly 60 per cent of cases were settled outside of an employment tribunal because it can cost a company around £8,500 to defend itself whereas a pre-hearing settlement costs closer to £5,500 (British Chamber of Commerce figures).

Through its specialised employment law service, Bibby Consulting & Support helps companies to operate within the legal framework while protecting them from frivolous claims. As well as supporting companies when they receive a claim and providing them with all the necessary advice, Bibby Consulting & Support will cover all costs associated with employment tribunals as part of its indemnity service.

Managing Director Michael Slade says: “While it has been suggested that introducing a cost to claimants might prevent some people from seeking justice, we believe that a reasonable fee in the region of £100 could discourage those who bring proceedings against a company without any merit.”

He adds: “All reputable businesses understand that there will be times when complainants have a genuine case and will want to support employees through standard grievance procedures. However, most companies would welcome the ability to filter out some of the weaker claims and certainly those that have no substance at all.”

As well as employees paying to proceed with cases or incurring costs when their case fails, Slade wants to encourage the practice of pre-hearing reviews where claims are heard ahead of a main tribunal. The idea behind this is that claims with no substance can be struck out before valuable management time is wasted defending spurious claims.

One of Europe’s leading independent fuel card management companies, UK Fuels based in Crewe — a customer of Bibby Consulting & Support — agrees that a pre-paid fee could be a realistic solution to the problem faced by many businesses.

UK Fuels’ Credit Director Angela Jenkins says: “Just like the system in county court cases, there should be some kind of fee involved when people want to take their case against an employer to a tribunal. While no-one wants to compromise the position of employees who have genuine claims, I certainly feel that if there were an up-front fee that people would forfeit if they lost their case, this would actually help those with genuine grievances and be a disincentive to those who might take companies to tribunals for no legitimate reason.”

Jenkins adds: “Employment tribunals and grievances can take up a lot of company time and money and this is why we use Bibby Consulting & Support because they remove all our financial concerns on this front. Not only do they ensure all our systems and processes are up-to-date but we report any problems that we have to them and follow their advice to the nth degree. We strive to be exemplary employers and that’s why we use Bibby Consulting & Support because they are the experts in this field and are up to the minute with current legislation helping us to manage employment issues without allowing them to become a drain on time and resource.”