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Tribunal trouble: How a backlogged tribunal system is stopping people enforcing their rights

22 October 2020

Tribunal trouble: How a backlogged tribunal system is stopping people enforcing their rights [ 1.3 mb]

The pandemic and resulting restrictions have reduced demand for many businesses - forcing affected employers to reduce their workforce. Since March, the number of payroll employees has dropped by 673,000. And, between June and August, redundancies increased to 227,000: a quarterly record increase of 114,000 and the highest level since summer 2009. In this redundancy crisis, we need a system that can deliver timely outcomes for affected workers with valid claims. This requires effective enforcement of employment rights and accessible routes to redress.

But the latest official statistics show that coronavirus-related restrictions have also significantly reduced employment tribunals’ capacity to deliver redress.

The pandemic has created the perfect storm for employment tribunals: rising demand at a time of restricted capacity. The resulting huge backlog and protracted waiting times will be enough to deter many potential claimants - and prompt others to withdraw from the process. But our research finds that the people most at risk of redundancy in this crisis - and most likely to need access to employment tribunals - are even less likely to make it to a hearing.

Urgent action is needed to ensure that the employment tribunal system can cope with the pressures of the pandemic and redundancy crisis - and be an effective source of redress to those affected. The government has already recognised this and taken welcome steps - including opening three temporary ‘Nightingale Courts’ that are hearing employment tribunal claims and investing £5.4 million in advice charities and law centres to help people with legal issues including employment problems.

But more is needed to tackle the scale of the challenge faced. We’re calling on the government to:

  • Increase funding for employment tribunals so it has the resource to build its capacity for video hearings and coronavirus-secure in-person hearings where appropriate
  • Fast-track plans to create a single enforcement body for employment rights and ensure it has the remit and resources to improve redundancy processes. This in turn would relieve the pressure on the employment tribunals reducing the number of workers needing to make claims in the first place.