Official figures in 2013 recorded 190,000 new employment tribunal claims, but the actual number of claimants was approximately 110,000, according to a study by a Cardiff University academic, Johnathan Mace. Some claims were renewed every three months, resulting in the same person’s claim being counted four times in a year, Mace told the British Sociological Association conference.

When an employee submitted a claim against their employer for failure to comply with the Working Time Directive, such as incorrectly calculating holiday pay, the system required them to resubmit their claim every three months. If the claim took a year to be heard at a tribunal, it was recorded four times as a claim, rather than only once.

In 2013, Matt Hancock, the then Skills and Enterprise Minister relied on the inflated figures and introduced tribunal fees of up to £1,200 to reduce the number of tribunal claims.

Hancock said: “Unscrupulous workers caused havoc by inundating companies with unfounded claims of mistreatment, discrimination or worse. Like Japanese knotweeds, the soaring number of tribunal cases dragged more and more companies into its grip, squeezing the life and energy from Britain’s wealth creators.”

The policy ultimately led to a sharp reduction of tribunal claims. Nigel Mackay, a partner in employment law at Leigh Day said the drops in claims particularly affected people with “low value but entirely merited claims who were deterred by the fees”.

“They were the sort of people that would be deterred from making claims about not being paid the minimum wage, while from the employer side they were happy with people being deterred”, he said.

Mace believes that “The rise in employment tribunal claims 2002/03 to 2012/13 was driven at least in part by ‘ghost claims’ and not ‘Japanese knotweeds’ or vexatious claims.

“The statistics therefore do not validate some of the policy and political interpretations that have been based on them.

“The fall in employment tribunal claims following the introduction of employment tribunal fees may have been partially coincidental as a result of ‘ghost claim’ issue unwinding itself”, he said.

In 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government’s introduction of tribunal fees were unlawful and unconstitutional. People who previously paid fees were entitled to a refund. However, it was announced last year that the government was exploring ways to reintroduce tribunal fees.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said that no decision has been made to introduce new fees and dismissed Mace’s “ghost” claims. The spokesperson said its figures made it clear that resubmitted cases were included, but it was difficult to estimate how many new claims were resubmitted claims. 

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