The employment tribunal system is still not coping with the increased demands on it since fees were abolished in 2017, with lawyers reporting that delays have worsened from an already parlous state a year ago.
A survey of 387 members of the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) found three-quarters reporting that responses to written correspondence/applications were taking longer than 12 months earlier – when the situation had worsened considerably from the previous year.
Two-thirds have experienced an increase in the time tribunals took to deal with the service of claims.
A majority also reported delays in telephone calls being answered, in receiving orders and judgments, and in having urgent applications dealt with.
Some 77% of lawyers said final hearings were being listed over a year after the issue of a claim.
A third said they have had cases where the hearing was transferred to another tribunal centre other than at the request of the parties, in some instances a significant distance from the original location.
The tribunals said to be most affected were London Central, London South, Watford, Reading and Cardiff.
The ELA acknowledged that more claims have been issued, but court service statistics showed that the number of single claims lodged in employment tribunals have only increased by 6% and multiple claims by 13 %, “suggesting that the unprecedented surge in tribunal claims since the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful in July 2017, is steadying”.
Shantha David, who ran the tribunal fees case at UNISON Legal Services and is member of the ELA’s working party on employment tribunal resource, said the numbers painted “a bleak picture”.
She continued: “Almost two years after the abolition of fees, why is it that tribunals are still unable to cope?
“The individual comments from the survey highlight a system that is crying out for more judicial and administrative resource.
“Common complaints include: long delays, regular cancellations of preliminary and full hearings, often last-minute, due to a lack of judicial resource, cases being re-listed at a much later date; telephones going unanswered for hours and a lack of responses to correspondence and applications including urgent applications. The list goes on.”
Ms David said the recent recruitment of 50 new employment judges – while another exercise to recruit fee-paid judges is underway – may start to resolve the problems caused by a lack of judicial resource.
“However, the survey has also clearly highlighted the severe lack of support at an administrative level that must be looked at.
“Part of the solution has to include the recruitment of administrative staff to answer tribunal telephones, respond to emails, transfer documents to the correct tribunals, and ensure that applications, especially urgent applications, are put in front of judges.”