Tribunal claim numbers up 23% year on year

James Tamm, director of legal services for Ellis Whittam

By James Tamm, director of legal services for Ellis Whittam, an employment law, HR and health and safety provider.

Last week, the Government released the latest set of tribunal statistics for the period October to December 2018 – and they make for stark reading for employers.

No signs of slowing down

In that period, the number of single-claim receipts is up by 23% from 7,957 in 2017 to 9,811 in 2018. Such a significant increase cannot be explained by the scrapping of fees, as we are comparing periods year on year when it was free to start proceedings. What it does show is that despite fees being abolished more than 18 months ago, there is no sign of the number of claims slowing down.

Comparison to prior years is instructive. Fees were introduced in 2013, and in the period October to December 2012, nearly 14,000 single claims were lodged. That means, potentially, claims could still rise by another 70% if we’re headed back to pre-fee levels…

A lengthier process for employers

Adding to the anxiety, it’s not just the number of claims received that should be a concern for businesses but also the length of time they are taking to resolve. The mean age for a claim when it finished in 2018 was 30 weeks, which is four weeks longer than for the same period in 2017. The amount of management time involved in dealing with claims is often lost behind the actual financial cost, but it is significant.

Take pro-active steps to protect your business

Faced with such uncertainty, there are a number of steps businesses can take to try and guard against the current claims culture. These include:

1.Have robust policies and procedures and follow them. The origin of many claims is usually rooted in a disagreement. That could be between colleagues in the form of a grievance or an accusation of misconduct leading to disciplinary action. If the procedure applied in dealing with those situations is defective, that can often give grounds for a claim. If you need practical support, Ellis Whittam’s expert Contract and Handbook Team will review your documents and make sure you have robust procedures dealing with disciplinaries, grievances, performance management and sickness absence.

2.Train your employees. It’s one thing to have policies in place, but you need to have management who are equipped to deal with issues when they arise. Whether you require expert on-site training delivered by one of our HR Consultants, or access to a range of guidance notes and webinars via our online portal, Ellis Whittam has a solution for you.

3.Take advice. Employment law is complicated. For example, there are five different types of unfair dismissal claim, nine different protected characteristics under the Equality Act, and at least four different claims that can be brought for each. As such, it’s easy to make a mistake. Taking the sort of pragmatic and commercial advice Ellis Whittam provides means that we can solve your problems and minimise the risks involved. Indeed, our analysis shows that Ellis Whittam clients are around 77% less like to receive a claim compared to the national average.

Despite all best efforts, whether an employee claims against you is largely out of your hands. However, in addition to the above, there are still things you can do to minimise the danger and increase your chances of success should the worst happen:

1.Insure against risk. The costs of Employment Tribunal claims can be eye-watering. In 2017/18, an average award of compensation was around £15,000, plus the costs of defending that sort of claim, which could be in the region of £8,000. The vast majority of Ellis Whittam clients take insurance, meaning both compensation and costs are covered, and it doesn’t cost them a penny when a claim is made against them.

2.Instruct experienced and quality litigators. At Ellis Whittam, our Employment Tribunal Litigation Team has over 80 years’ experience in dealing with Tribunal claims. That knowledge and skill shows. In 2017/2018, we successfully defended 88% of insured claims brought against our clients. Nationally, employers only defended around 9% of the claims brought against them in the same period. In other words, you’re much more likely to succeed with us fighting your corner.

Uncertain times

This is a time of great uncertainty for employers. The ever-growing number of Tribunal claims only adds to the worries most companies face in the current climate. If you want to make sure that you are best placed to prevent claims in the first place, or defend them should they arise, our qualified Employment Law specialists can ensure that you’re acting in accordance with best practice whilst also keeping your commercial requirements in mind.