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Who can represent me at a tribunal?
You do not need a qualified lawyer to represent you at a tribunal. Other people such as full-time union officers or advice centre workers can often do just as good a job, if not better. You may also be able to secure representation through an insurance policy (e.g. household, credit card, car or other insurance), if it includes legal expenses insurance as an 'optional add-on'.
However, you should be wary of the kind of independent advisers who advertise their services, such as in local papers and by other means, who offer to prepare your case and represent you at a tribunal for a fee and/or a cut of your compensation.
While some may be competent, you have absolutely no guarantee that they have any expertise. The government is so concerned at just how badly some advisers serve their clients that they have taken steps against them. These are some of the things you should watch out for:
- Are they registered under the Compensation Act 2006? (It is a crime for an unauthorised person to offer claims management services, or to pretend to be authorised. This includes employment tribunal claims.)
- Are their terms reasonable? They may expect a very large share of any award you win.
- What are their qualifications? Some claim that they have qualifications that they do not really have, others give themselves such names as 'legal advisers', which gives you the impression that they have some sort of legal qualification, when in reality this term may mean little.
The best representation you can have at an employment tribunal may well be that which is provided by a trained trade union representative. He or she is very likely to have considerable experience of how the tribunals work, will understand workplace issues better, and be able to spot workplace-specific errors made by your employer that an outside adviser would probably miss. Surveys have consistently shown that in cases where the claimant is represented by a trade union, they are more likely to be successful and will get much better compensation.
If you are not a member of a union, you may be able to get free legal advice from your local Law Centre, if you live in a larger town or city, or the Free Representation Unit in London. Otherwise, Acas can provide advice (though not representation), as can staff at a Citizens Advice.
If you do want to use a lawyer, make sure you choose one who has direct experience of employment tribunal representation (as lawyers often specialise in particular areas of the law). Someone who sold your house may have no experience of employment law.