Many employers who lose at employment tribunals refuse to pay the compensation awarded, according to Citizens Advice.
More than 650 people consult its bureaux about the problem every year: one in 20 of the 13,000 who win compensation awards. The true percentage is probably much higher, Citizens Advice said.
Tribunals have no powers to enforce their awards, so employees have to take court action, which involves paying fees and does not guarantee success.
“Employment tribunals are off-puttingly legalistic and increasingly adversarial, so taking a case to one can be immensely daunting and stressful, especially for vulnerable low paid and non-unionised workers,” said Citizens Advice director of policy, Teresa Perchard.
“All too often people go through this gruelling process and win their case only to find that being awarded compensation turns out to be a hollow victory.
"Their employer simply fails to pay up and there are so many legal and financial obstacles to enforcing an award they end up without a penny of the money they should have.”
Citizens Advice believes that provision for a mechanism to better enforce awards should be included in the forthcoming Courts and Tribunals Bill.
This could allow the state to pay the award to the claimant, and then itself pursue the employer.