Unpaid tribunal awards to be recovered through ‘bailiff-style’ tactics

Tough new measures to force employers to pay damages awarded against them at tribunals will see bailiff-style enforcement officers knocking on employers’ doors weeks earlier.

Justice secretary Jack Straw last week said high court enforcement officers would be able to use their powers to recover awards granted by employment tribunals or in out-of-court settlements, including breaking into properties and taking goods worth the debt owed, after just 48 days (nearly seven weeks) – without waiting for a County Court judgment, which could take several more weeks to obtain.

Research by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) found 39% of tribunal awards currently go unpaid, with nearly half of payments over £5,000 being avoided. More than one in 10 large employers refused to pay awards, the study found.

The news comes as a Court of Appeal case ruled an ex-employee could file a discrimination case for victimisation against an employer that failed to pay a tribunal award owed. Employment lawyers said the case – Rank Nemo (DMS) Ltd v Coutinho – could set a precedent, but it was too early to tell as the tribunal was yet to uphold the claim.

Guy Lamb, partner at law firm DLA Piper, told Personnel Today that Straw’s new system would speed up action against tribunal pay-dodgers and increase the number of staff who chased up payments.

He said: “It is very difficult to enforce the award when you get one. The new system will make things move more quickly. Employ­ees will be able to enforce judgments more quickly, easily and with less expense, so more will look to recover the costs owed to them.e_SDRq

Lamb added “tens of thousands of enforcement officers” were needed to cope with the extra workload this proposal would bring. There are currently just 63 officers.

The MoJ could not say whether more officers would be recruited, but expected the new provisions to be in place by the end of the year.

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