A radical overhaul of employment tribunal procedure and administration is being proposed as HR professionals contend with a rising tide of claims from disgruntled employees.

There has been a massive hike in the number of claims accepted by employment tribunals in the past year. The 56% rise reported this month (July) by the Tribunal Services for 2009-10, is the highest ever level involving 236,100 claims, up from 151,000.

The soaring claims rate provides the backdrop to mounting concern among employment lawyers throughout the UK about the consistency of approach, efficiency and quality of tribunal services.

Three months before the release of the latest tribunal figures, ELA (Employment Lawyers Association) embarked on a major survey among its 5,500 members to gain a detailed grass-roots view of what was happening. The survey results published today (Thurs) identify key areas of concern and make positive proposals for reforms, which would help to improve efficiency thus saving time and cost for employers, claimants, government and advisers alike.

ELA’s proposals acknowledge the spirit of radical change and budget tightening being pursued by the coalition government as it seeks to dramatically pare down public sector fixed and operational costs.

At the same time, government consultation around merging the tribunal and courts services is underway. ELA is concerned that opportunities to achieve employment tribunal-specific improvements should not be missed.

Joanne Owers, Chair of ELA, who also chaired ELA’s working party on the tribunals service, said: “The dramatic escalation in claims has put employment tribunals and the tribunals service under considerable pressure.

“It is understandable that cracks are appearing in the system. In addition to highlighting the problem areas commonly encountered by users, ELA members have indicated very strong support for practical changes and improvements which they believe will complement the work being carried out to improve the service and deliver significant benefit to the employees and employers who use it.”

Survey poll: ELA received around a 20% response to its survey, when taking into account that some people replied on behalf of employment teams within firms not just as individuals. 81% of respondents work in private practice. Responses came from lawyers practising in, and with experience of employment tribunals in, all English regions, as well as in Scotland and Wales.