Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Through a glass, darkly

16 October 2014

Thanks to a written question by Chuka Umunna we now know how many employment tribunal fee remissions were granted each month between July 2013 and June 2014.

There are two odd things about the answer. First, the government appears not to possess reliable information about how many applications it’s received.

Employment tribunal remission data extracted in its current form from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) systems has not yet been assured to sufficient standards to provide the number of remission applications received, subsequently awarded, in full or partial.

That really is a remarkable statement.

The government has set up an employment tribunal fees system, which basically does two things. It takes money from people who pay the fee; and it processes remission applications. You’d think that anyone running such a system would be able to get basic information on what was happening. At the very least they should know how many applications had been received and how many granted.

By way of comparison, here at FRU, a small legal charity doing work of considerably less importance, I can produce data on how many clients have applied to us for help and how many people we’ve found representative for. I can divide applications between social security and employment cases or by different tribunal venues, or in a hundred other ways.

If I had to admit to anyone that I just couldn’t tell them how many people had been referred to FRU over the last 12 months, I would feel I’d been exposed as a complete idiot – and I’d be absolutely right. I’ve no idea what is going on over at HMCTS, but it’s hard to think of a good reason they can’t provide this information to parliament, months after the scheme started.

The second odd thing is that the number of remissions is rising steeply.

It isn’t obvious why this would be happening. The test for fee remission got stricter in October 2013, when the capital test was introduced. And the number of claims, in total, has been dropping further, not rising. So you would expect remission to be getting rarer.

One possibility is that the proportion of claimants applying for remissions is going up. This might be true, as information and advice on remissions gets disseminated. The other possibility is that a higher percentage of remissions are being granted. If that’s true, it’s scandalous, because it suggests that many people who were entitled to remission were previously being refused – either because HMCTS was getting it wrong or because their process was too tortuous for eligible litigants to get through.

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