Fears raised that employment tribunal backlog will get worse as furlough ends

FEARS have been raised that the growing backlog of employment tribunal cases is set to get worse as lockdown is lifted and the furlough scheme ends.

Employment Tribunal. Picture by Shutterstock.
Employment Tribunal. Picture by Shutterstock.

A record number of employment tribunal claims were submitted in February, and the backlog of cases is unlikely to have peaked, according to legal advice and protection provider ARAG.

Two recent sets of data released by HM Courts and Tribunal Service show both a big increase in the number of claims accepted by the tribunal in the last three months of 2020, and the backlog of outstanding claims continuing to grow, this year.

There are 51,000 outstanding employment claims this past year, up 45 per cent on 'pre-Covid baseline' figures at the end of February.

Sue Ball, from Verisona Law

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HMCTS tribunal statistics also revealed that saw 37 per cent more claims were accepted than in Q2, and 66 per cent more than in Q1.

Sue Ball is the head of employment at law firm Verisona Law, based in Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth.

She said that single claims are taking nearly a year to process and some more complicated cases are taking more than four years.

She said: ‘The numbers are not surprising, and sadly the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

‘There’s a big increase in the single claim category, with an increase of 25 per cent of claims as compared to the same quarter in 2019.

‘This is the highest level of single claims received in a quarter since 2012/13, and the average clearance time currently sits at 48 weeks – 12 weeks more than compared to the same period in 2019.

‘Multiple claims (where two or more people bring claims arising out of the same or very similar circumstances, and where the claims are processed together) are up 82 per cent on the same quarter in 2019, with an average clearance time of 229 weeks.

‘It will be interesting to see how the re-opening of life and business in the forthcoming weeks impacts the economy and the job market, but there is a general expectation that the rise in claims issued at employment tribunals will continue to rise, particularly when the furlough scheme ends.’

Chris Millward, head of claims at ARAG, said the situation was intolerable for both sides – and called for the government to take further action.

He said: ‘An increase in employment tribunal claims was expected, given the high level of redundancies we saw towards the end of 2020, but it's clear from weekly management information that the tribunal system does not have the capacity to cope.

‘The steps government proposed to address the backlog last year, increasing use of virtual hearings and trying to deploy underutilised and non-specialist judges, clearly haven't worked. There is no doubt that stronger action is urgently needed to bring the backlog under control.

‘We warned that the backlog was approaching 50,000 cases, back in September, but it has continued to grow steadily, ever since. The end to the furlough scheme is likely to bring another spike in redundancies and yet more tribunal claims, so it is hard to see the situation improving anytime soon.

‘The situation is intolerable for businesses facing a claim and for those employees who may have been unfairly treated, as it is clear many will have to wait significant periods of time, potentially years, before getting any sort of resolution to their dispute.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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