There are some interesting nuggets lurking within the Ministry of Justice statistics for the Employment Tribunal Service for the year to 31 March 2011, released this week.

The figures record an overall number of claims in excess of 218,000 across the UK.  The good news is that this is 8% down on 2009/10, but the bad that it still represents a 44% increase on the year before.  The number of individual claims has dipped slightly but has otherwise remained broadly static since 2000/1, while collective (multiple) claims have risen by over 100,000 over the same period.

Those 218,000 cases include over 380,000 separate complaints, an average of 1.75 complaints per Tribunal claim.  The days of employees just claiming unfair dismissal and getting on with it seem well behind us.  However, the statistics also point away from the popular misconception that everyone claims discrimination just to up the ante in settlement terms.  Leaving aside mostly collective claims for equal pay, the numbers of sex, disability, race, religion and orientation claims were all static or went down, and only age showed any material increase.  All those claims added together totalled about 33,500, slightly less than claims for breach of contract, a third less than those for unfair dismissal and well under half the clear leader – simple unlawful deductions on 71,300.

Despite the experience familiar to many practitioners in the East London Tribunal of the call shortly after 4.00pm the day before a hearing to tell you that your case has been bounced for lack of Judges, the Tribunal system overall got through nearly 10% more cases than 2009/10, and a whopping 33% more than the year before that.

Of the 380,000 separate complaints, 244,000 have been dealt with by the Tribunal.  61% went by settlement or withdrawal, 27% were unsuccessful and despite the scaremongering of the Daily Mail and its ilk, only 12% succeeded.  The lowest success rates are for discrimination claims (1%-3% of all complaints brought) and the highest for the things you would think employers would be least likely to get wrong – breach of contract, unlawful deductions, redundancy pay and working time issues.  Only 8% of all unfair dismissal claims brought are ultimately successful before the Tribunal, but only 10% are recorded as failing, showing that the vast majority are settled before the hearing.

On the quantum front, the median unfair dismissal award was for slightly under £4,600, and the medians for discrimination claims between £5,000 and £6,500 (excluding age at £12,700).  The highest award for discrimination was £289,167 (sex) which is clearly quite a drubbing but still very much less than the £729,350 awarded to a particularly slighted disability claimant in 2009/10.