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Business groups express mixed views on tribunal reforms

Business groups have expressed mixed reactions to plans to reform the tribunal system, following the end of a Government consultation on the issue.

Under the proposed changes, fees could be introduced for any employee wishing to raise a tribunal claim, with the aim of deterring weak or vexatious claims.

Two alternative options for the new fee system have been put forward, which involve either:

· An initial fee of £150-£250 to enable an employee to raise a claim, with an additional fee of between £250 and £1250 if the claim goes to a hearing, and no maximum limit to the award; or

· A single fee of £200-£600, with the maximum award capped at £30,000. Those seeking awards above this threshold would be given the option of paying an additional fee of £1,750.

John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), described the measures as ‘a step in the right direction’.

‘The introduction of claimant fees could be a real confidence boost for business,’ he added.

However, in its response to the consultation, which closed on 6 March, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) voiced concerns over the proposals.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills policy, commented; ‘Businesses have been pressing for reform of the tribunals system for many years. It needs to be simpler, faster and more effective at weeding out weak or vexatious claims.

‘But we don’t believe the Government’s current proposals will be effective when it comes to deterring weak claims. For these changes to work, all claimants must be asked to pay a fee. Current government proposals will have over a quarter of people paying no fee at all and a further half paying just a partial fee.’

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has also expressed reservations, and is now calling for some element of means-testing for anyone applying for remission of tribunal fees.

According to the Government, tribunal claims rose to 236,000 in 2010 – a record figure and a rise of 56% on 2009 – and business has to spend almost £4,000 on average to defend itself against a claim.