‘Perfect storm’ for employment tribunals

Employment tribunals are facing a huge backlog and need further funding to clear it, says a new report from Citizens Advice.

judge's gavel against a block titled employment

 

A ‘perfect storm’ is brewing in the tribunal system, with rising demand at a time of restricted capacity, according to a report from Citizens Advice.

It says the backlog for individual cases has already passed post-2008 financial crisis record, with 37,000 workers in the queue, and that three in 10 unfair dismissal cases are being withdrawn as workers face an average 38-week wait for a single claims relating to discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Its analysis shows that if the backlog of claims continues to increase at the current rate, outstanding claims could pass 500,000 by spring.  This number could multiply too, as it does not include any potential rise in employment tribunal cases over the next months.

Citizens Advice’s research has previously shown that disabled people, those asked to shield and parents and carers are at least twice as likely to be facing redundancy as the rest of the working population.

Even before the pandemic, the employment tribunal system already had over 440,000 outstanding claims from both individuals and groups of employees. Citizens Advice says that, between April and June, the number of cases being resolved – either through decision, settlement, withdrawal or dismissal – dropped by 56% to an 11-year low. Within this period, however, the proportion of people withdrawing their unfair dismissal case increased from 21% to 29% – equivalent to three in 10 people withdrawing a claim.

Employment tribunals have prioritised pandemic-related dismissal claims on health and safety grounds since June. The government has given an £80 million boost to the Courts and Tribunal Service to help the courts system adapt during the pandemic, which includes funding to open temporary Nightingale Courts, three of which are hearing employment tribunals. The Ministry of Justice has also provided £5.4 million to charities and law centres to help with legal issues in the pandemic.

Citizens Advice says it believes additional emergency funding is needed to increase capacity further and ensure employment tribunals can clear the backlog. It is also urging the government to fast-track its plans to create a single enforcement body for employment rights, which would relieve pressure on employment tribunals.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Employment tribunals ensure workers’ rights are protected in some of the most serious cases, but right now they are facing the perfect storm of rising demand at a time of restricted capacity.

“We know that disabled people, those asked to shield, and parents and carers are at greater risk of redundancy. But if they want to challenge an unfair dismissal or discrimination they already face waiting nine months for their case to be heard, and the pandemic is only going to increase this.

“Workers who have been treated unfairly need to know employers that break the rules will no longer have lengthy waiting times on their side. Employment tribunals need more emergency funding, and ultimately workers need a one-stop shop to protect their employment rights.”



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