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The number of claims accepted by employment tribunals fell 15 per cent to 186,300 this year, according to new statistics released by the Ministry of Justice.
The largest single category of cases related to unfair dismissal, breach of contract and redundancy, which made up 31 per cent of claims – a slight rise of one per cent on last year’s numbers.
The number of discrimination claims continued to fall – with the exception of disability claims, which rose by 6.5 per cent.
Age discrimination claims dipped by almost half, but did see a near-doubling in the median award – rising to £6,065. The largest single compensation payout awarded by a tribunal over the past year was £4.5 million in a race discrimination case.
The statistics, which cover employment tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal activity between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012, showed a downward trend. This year’s total of 186,300 claims represented a 15 per cent fall on last year and a 21 per cent decline compared to 2009/10.
However, legal experts pointed out that changes in the number of class actions brought against single employers were potentially skewing the statistics. The number of multiple claims dropped by 19 per cent this year, but single tribunal claims only fell by 2 per cent.
Whistleblowing cases were also excluded from the figures, which suggested a lack of protective measures to encourage whistleblowers to come forward, said Andreas White, an employment lawyer at Kingsley Napley.
“One of the lessons of the financial crisis is that much more needs to be done to protect whistleblowers and encourage them to come forward with information concerning financial malpractice,” White explained.
“Our whistleblowing legislation dates back to 1998 but it fails to protect employees properly when they blow the whistle, and contains no incentives at all.”
But the Ministry of Justice data also revealed that just over 500,000 employment tribunal cases were yet to be processed. The backlog was mainly comprised of complex multiple claims.
The government is in the process of making reforms to the UK’s employment tribunal system, which will include introducing case fees and lowering awards for successful unfair dismissal cases.
Perhaps the most interesting statistics are for the representation of Claimants. While these are also skewed by the multiple claims, there has been a 49% drop in the number of claimants who had a lawyer and a 45% drop in Claimants who had a union representative at Tribunal. However, there has been an increase over the last two years from 16,700 to 46,100 Claimants represented by "Other" representatives. This represents an increase from 7% of claims to 29% of claims in a two year period.<br/><br/>We are witnessing a huge expansion in the number of claims handled by businesses, often staffed or run by HR professionals. When the last government created the Ministry of Justice list of approved Employment Tribunal representatives, it was intended as a way of controlling the sector. The unintended consequence has been to create a new model of Employment Tribunal representation, and a new market in claims.