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Holiday pay tribunal backlog in Northern Ireland will take decade to clear

There are currently 190,229 holiday pay claims awaiting judgement in Northern Ireland

Addressing the backlog of holiday pay claims in Northern Ireland could take more than a decade, the president of the Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal has warned.

The Irish News reported Noel Kelly sent a memo to the tribunal’s users group which stated there are currently 190,229 holiday pay claims in Northern Ireland, from around 13,000 individual claimants.

If one tribunal was sitting for the cases, he said this could take up to 14 years to address.

Kelly wrote: “The tribunal is currently under significant pressure. There is simply no spare capacity.”

Read more: Employment tribunal delays increase 60% since 2010

The letter followed a Supreme Court decision which found Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers and staff were owed holiday pay shortfalls dating back to 1998.

Rob Smedley, employment law director at law firm Freeths, said this decision quashed a previous argument which meant holiday underpayments would not be brought to court if there had been three months without an underpayment.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “The court’s decision opens the way for those claiming unpaid holiday pay sums to go back further with their claim. 

“There had been a technical argument which employers could run to say that a gap of three months without an underpayment could be used to stop and curtail the period of claim. The Supreme Court has overturned this and so employers will no longer be able to use this rule to limit the period of claim.”

The UK tribunal system more generally is dealing with a large backlog. Data released in August 2023 by the Ministry of Justice found claimants have to wait 60% longer than in 2010.

There were more than 50,500 open cases in the UK’s employment tribunal system in December 2022.

Read more: Does the employment tribunal backlog call for a reboot?

Elizabeth Judson, head of client experience at employment law firm AfterAthena, said the tribunal system has been overwhelmed since tribunal fees were abolished.

She told HR magazine: "The main reason for the backlog in the employment tribunal system seems to primarily have arisen due to the significant increase in employment tribunal claims following the abolition of employment tribunal fees in 2014.  

“This was further impacted by the pandemic which led to hearings being adjourned initially and an increase in the number of pandemic-related cases. Despite the use of online hearings and government investment, cases are still taking a long time to work their way through the system.”