Friday, 14 March 2014

Access denied

Figures published yesterday tell us that the number of employment tribunal claims has plummeted since the introduction of fees in July last year.

Apparently, the number of claims fell by 75% in the third quarter of 2013 and 79% in the final three months of the year, by comparison with the same periods during 2012.

It is no coincidence that in July 2013 the government introduced fees payable by claimants both at the commencement of proceedings and prior to a hearing.  The levels vary but for typical and (previously) very common unfair dismissal claims the issue fee is £250 and the hearing fee a chunky £950.

I considered some while ago, before the changes were implemented, the likely impact of requiring dismissed employees to stump up more than £1,000 to bring claims the majority of which are probably well within five figures.  See Fire at will.

Add to the pain of claimants in finding that sort of money when they are out of a job, taking the risk of not recovering it if they lose or have to compromise, the pain of lawyers saying they would like to help but cannot.
The biggest problem in many cases is not the unwillingness to take risk or reluctance of the claimant to pay for a good result.  It is – again – the legislation introduced by our government that limits the amount that can be paid by the client to the lawyer out of the money recovered.

Meanwhile, I read that disabled people reliant on as little as £40 per week in benefits will have to pay a fee of £250 to mount an appeal.  This is no doubt a further measure required to stem the flow after too many claimants have to date succeeded with appeals, assisted by those damned lawyers with an overactive social conscience.

How on earth does anybody truly reliant on benefits find more than a month’s “income” to challenge the refusal to pay such a pitiful sum, when they are already in debt and before they even try to find help from law centres and advice bureaux that no longer exist or can’t cope?

Meanwhile in the civil courts we can’t get anything done because of the overload on people who don’t know how to do it. 

Little things like coping with the delay generated by one court asking us for a case number before they can process our paperwork.  The answer is that it is to be found, cunningly concealed at the top of our letter, alongside the prompt “Your Ref:”

Elsewhere in one of the notorious outer London courts we are trying to find out why, after we acknowledged service and came on record in proceedings and then had four or five exchanges of correspondence with the court office, the staff are now sending correspondence to our client direct.  We are also told that there is no sign of a defence and counterclaim at the court office – so I should like to know who has banked our cheque payable to the Court Service.

Whilst we are mucking about with this joyous stuff, will we manage to take our eye off the ball somewhere else and have some less pragmatic and power-crazed individual striking us out for applying the wrong coloured paperclip to a document one day last summer? Do as I say...not as I do.

What a shambles.

None of this really matters of course because in the main, certainly with tribunal claims and disability benefit, we are only talking about piddling little sums.  We will all sit and wait for the next attack on the small claims limit for personal injury actions, no doubt when Direct Lying and chums decide that the hundreds of millions of pounds of profit they have made this year still isn’t enough.  

What’s Five grand anyway?

Again that will be done by knee-capping the legal representatives, taking away the ability to recover costs from the wrongdoer – to make the polluter pay.

It won’t be done by change in the law.  In all of these areas, your rights and entitlements are still there.  You’re just not allowed to assert them.