The Government will stop charging employment tribunal fees and refund those who have already paid them – after the Supreme Court found they were unlawful.
The court ruled unanimously against the Government and found it was acting unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees – which can be up to £1,200.
Unison waged a four-year legal battle to get the fees scrapped, arguing they prevented workers from seeking justice and were discriminatory toward women.
The public sector union says the ruling means the Government will have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking unfair dismissal claims to tribunal.
The fees were introduced in July 2013 by Chris Grayling, then the lord chancellor, in a bid to reduce costs and free up clogged up courts.
A review of the impact of the fees conducted this year showed there had been a 70% drop in the number of cases brought in the employment tribunal since they were first introduced.
After the ruling, justice minister Dominic Raab said: “The Supreme Court recognised the important role fees can play, but ruled that we have not struck the right balance in this case.
“We will take immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis declared the ruling a “major victory” for workers.
“The Government is not above the law, but when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work,” he said.
“Unison took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future.
“Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the fees had been a “bonanza for bad bosses” as they gave them “free rein to mistreat staff”.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, described it as a “landmark ruling”, adding: “Employment Tribunal fees have prevented people from getting justice when they’ve been treated unfairly at work.”
David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which provided independent legal opinion during the case, called the Supreme Court ruling a “damning verdict on the current regime”.
“The right to justice must be based on the merit of your case, not your ability to pay. Thousands may have been denied of this right and priced out of getting justice,” he said.
“Women face a double penalty with high fees and short time scales to bring maternity discrimination cases.”