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Tribunal system gets a shake-up

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The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill has begun its legislative process in the House of Lords – and one of the key areas it aims to tackle is non-payment of employee tribunal awards.

Sections of the bill state that any award made by a tribunal must be treated as if it were made by the high court – bringing England and Wales in line with Scotland.

At the moment, if an employer doesn’t pay an award then the claimant must pay £30 to register the award as unpaid with the county court.

A court officer automatically issues an order for payment within 14 days and enters the employer’s name on the register of county court judgments.

But that still isn’t a guarantee of payment and although the claimant can ask the county court to undertake enforcement measures such as sending in the bailiffs, obtaining payment from a third party who holds money for the employer – such as a bank – or securing a charge against property, there are more court fees to pay and potentially legal fees as well.

The new bill effectively enables tribunals to enforce their judgments by treating them as if they were high court judgments.

In a 2004 report ‘Empty Justice’, Citizen’s Advice revealed that one in 20 employment tribunal awards are not paid and called for the enforcement process to be made easier.

But Citizen’s Advice has also said that its estimate of awards that initially go unpaid may be too low as it only takes into account the cases it deals with – there may be others where people use other routes to get payment or simply give up.

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