Employment Tribunals: ELA survey results revealed

13 June 2019

“Tribunal administration is just not coping with the demands on it”, according to a new ELA survey of its members on the Employment Tribunal System. A year on from the previous ELA survey on tribunals, the picture continues to be bleak, with members highlighting the lack of judicial and administrative resource as a particular problem.

More claims may be being issued, but compared to the same period last year,  the number of single claims lodged in employment tribunals have only increased by 6% and multiple claims by 13 % (ET Statistics June 2019); suggesting that the unprecedented surge in tribunal claims, since the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful in July 2017, is steadying. 

So, almost two years after the abolition of fees, why is it that tribunals are still unable to cope? We know that the recruitment of approximately 50 Employment Judges has been completed, and that another exercise to recruit fee-paid judges is underway. In the circumstances, ELA’s focus in this survey was on administrative resources, and in particular whether they were sufficient to meet the current demand.

Our survey to members ran from 15 May and 3 June 2019. We received 387 responses which accounts for approximately 6% of our membership. The survey revealed that:

  • Over 66% of respondents experienced an increase in the time tribunals are taking to deal with the service of claims (this is down from 75% last year);
  • 75% of respondents said that responses to written correspondence/applications are taking longer than a year ago.
  • 51% of respondents report delays in telephone calls being answered (Slightly less than the 53% last year);
  • Over 60% of respondents are experiencing delays in receiving Orders, and Judgments (including reserved judgments) (this is slightly up from last year);
  • Over 63% of respondents said that urgent applications are taking longer than the previous year while 73% of respondents said that they also experience delays with all other applications; and
  • Over 77% of respondents said that final hearings were being listed over a year after the issue of a claim.
  • A third of all respondents said that they had been involved in a case where the hearing was transferred to another tribunal centre (other than at  the request of the parties); and 15% of respondents said that the hearing was transferred to another tribunal centre significantly far from the original location

Particular tribunals seem to be most affected, such as those in London (London Central, London South) South East (Watford, Reading) and Wales (Cardiff).

The individual comments highlight a system that is crying out for more judicial and administrative resource. Common complaints include: long delays in claims being processed; lengthy delays in listings; the 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; a lack of responses to correspondence and applications including urgent applications; no reliable process for urgent applications;  overworked administrative staff; judges being inadequately supported by administrative staff with correspondence, files and documents not being sent to judges or the correct tribunals.

Respondents pointed out that all of these delays lead to increased costs (especially Counsel’s costs) being incurred by clients e.g. where cases are cancelled at the last minute. A respondent pointed out that it is “embarrassing to explain [these delays] to clients and leads to a loss of confidence in the rule of law - what is the point of having employment rights if they cannot be effectively enforced?”  Or as another respondent put it, delays: “impact access to justice”.

Conclusions

Whilst we are very aware that they are doing what they can to increase resourcing within the Employment Tribunal System, we have again written to the Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England & Wales and in Scotland (Judge Brian Doyle and Judge Shona Simon respectively) to make them aware of our members’ views.

Given the new cohort of employment judges, we hope that the problems that relate to the lack of judicial resourcing will now be resolved and we hope that next year’s survey will reveal better results in relation to postponed hearings and delayed judgments. However, the survey has also clearly highlighted the severe lack of support at an administrative level that must be looked at. As we pointed out last year, 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.

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