Cough Up: Government is Slow to Refund £16 Million to Thousands of Wrongfully Charged Claimants

June 11, 2019

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2017, that abolished tribunal fees, the government still owes £16 million to refund those who had been overcharged between April 2013 (when the fees were introduced) and March 2017.

What does this mean?

In July 2013, the government introduced tribunal fees that started at £160 and could rise up to £1200 to deter people from making claims that wasted the tribunals’ time. However, many quickly pointed out that the charges were excessive and acted as a barrier to justice. This effectively eroded peoples’ employment rights.

Hugh Collins (Professor of Law at the University of Oxford) pointed out that the fees were four times higher than they should have been, adding that a fee of just £50 would be sufficient to deter silly or vexatious claims. Joe Egan (President of the Law Society) said that “access to justice is a fundamental right – if you can’t enforce the rights it renders them meaningless.” The trade union Unison worked with Blackstone Chambers and took up the case. They argued that these fees were unlawful, and pursued it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruling in 2017 overturned two previous judgements in favour of maintaining the fees, and consequently, the fees were abolished. The government had approximately £56 million to pay in refunds. However, two years later, the government still owes £16 million of that sum.

What's the big picture effect?

This is a good example of the checks and balances that exist the government, Parliament and the judiciary.

The MoJ revealed that it has made 21,300 payments already since December 2017, as it continues to pay up in this humiliating reversal of fortune. Yet the MoJ is also dealing with several other costly issues at the moment.

Alongside this, the MoJ is also running a £69 million refund scheme for those who may have overpaid when registering for a lasting power of attorney. Around 2 million people were due a refund at the beginning of 2018 as the price for a lasting power of attorney was reduced from £110 to £82. This drawn-out and complicated process means claimants will have to go through a solicitor to obtain their refund.

As a result of all these payouts, the MoJ is moving towards a comprehensive review. The MoJ’s permanent secretary explained that, as the MoJ “moves towards a spending review, [they] are beginning to build a detailed and evidenced understanding of the costs and benefits involved”.

How long it will take for justice to finally be served still remains to be seen.

Report written by Will H​

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