Getting legal advice, legal aid and Unions. Which one was for me?

Now when I decided that I was going to file my case in the employment tribunal, I exhausted all other possibilities before hand. Firstly I tried to resolve it with the employer but this was proven to be impossible. The second was that being a member of a Union at the time, I thought they would help me. They did tell me what was the law and what wasn’t and did help with some of the negotiations with my employer initially, but when they couldn’t obtain my final pay etc. , I started to have thoughts that I am going to have to take this to court. Now normally when you are in a Union they are meant to represent you in court apparently, mine didn’t. In fact they refused on the grounds of, if I lost my case, it would cost them a lot of money!! Yes, I was pretty devastated at the time also, but this is what they claimed and this is what they stuck to.

So I thought, no problem then, I will get a solicitor on legal aid. As by this time, I had no job, no money apart from benefits and was pretty much ‘in it’ – you know what I mean! But under the advice I was given when I tried to get a solicitor on legal aid, I was told that if you have been a member of a Union at the time of employment, you cannot apply for legal aid for an employment tribunal claim,as they believe that it is up to the Union to represent me.

So my next port of call was an advice bureau. They also told me that if I lost I would have to pay a lot of fees. But they did say why don’t you try a reconcialtion agreement with ACAS.  ACAS is a charity and work with the tribunal to resolve issues and cases by form of reconciliation and negotiation, impartially between the respondent and the claimant. This can be helpful if both parties involved agree to disagree and settle their differences willingly outside of court. Any contract you make with your employer via ACAS is a legally binding one which both parties have to stick to, so this can be a good option. I did try this also but this was not a possibility for me.

Another option was my house insurance – many types of insurance of this nature offer free legal advice and representation for employment tribunal claims of a particular nature. This can be a good source of great legal cover and representation. And in fact some of my best advice came from here.

But for me, I had exhausted all possibilities and felt OK. I am still, some weeks later, sure that I have a case. You really need to be sure that you have been wronged greatly. This will also stand you in good stead with the courts as they like to see that both parties have tried to resolve the issues beforehand. This shows two things, one that you have fully investigated your cause and the detriment that you have suffered and that you are sure of your facts; and two that you have tried to resolve things within reasonability. Tribunal proceedings cost a lot of money, so if you can prove that you have exhausted all other possibilities before going to an employment tribunal this is a good thing to do. You would not want the courts to think that you are abusing the system of bringing claims of a vextatious nature and this can lead to the courts awarding you costs.

Be aware that this process that comes next after all the above, is very long, very stressful and can be expensive – even if you can get legal aid. You might loose your home – I did. But remember that even if you are right and you are fortunate to win, as I did. The stress involved in this type of thing can be second to none and even if you are right, going to court is not a nice experience – not because of the court itself as actually I think they accommodate everyone fairly and respectfully but because when you are fighting for your rights in a legal manner, the emotional drain and restlessness is sometimes unbearable. I actually had to have an ECG on my heart, the day following one of my hearings and I did not have any illnesses etc. relating to the heart, so this goes to show what internal stress you can suffer and what it can do.

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