29 SEP 2014
ACAS Early Conciliation scheme
Earlier this year, a scheme was introduced so that any claimant considering making an ET claim was required to contact ACAS first. This marks an important change. The scheme was available from 6 April 2014 under transitional provisions. Claimants were not obliged to submit to it for claims made on or after 6 May 2014.
The scheme requires a prospective claimant to submit a form (online or by post) to, or to telephone, ACAS. They must give their name and address and that of at least 1 prospective respondent. The prospective claimant does not have to provide any details about the dispute. The parties are then offered pre-claim conciliation for 1 month, with a potential 2-week extension. The pre-claim conciliation "stops the clock" on time limits for submitting an ET1 for the period of conciliation. The claimant is also given a minimum of 1 month post-conciliation to lodge the claim.
There is no obligation on either party to engage in the conciliation process. If they do not engage in it, ACAS will issue the Early Conciliation ("EC") certificate and the process ends at that point. ETs will only accept claims once a claimant has been issued with an EC certificate. An EC certificate will be issued if:
• Either party withdraws from, or refuses to engage in, the conciliation process.
• At any point during the EC period, ACAS considers that there is no reasonable prospect of achieving settlement.
• The EC period expires without settlement having been reached.
The scheme applies to most claims. This is subject to a few exemptions. This includes where the respondent has already contacted ACAS. Prospective claimants can nevertheless contact ACAS themselves in order to benefit from the time limit extensions.
The scheme has now been in operation several months. In September 2014 ACAS published the Early Conciliation statistics for the first quarter of the scheme (i.e. 6 April to 30 June 2014). These indicate that the vast majority of requests emanate from the employee rather than the employer. Of the c. 11,000 cases which began and ended their EC period in the quarter, about 1 in 6 resulted in a successful settlement, and a further 1 in 5 employees informed ACAS they were not proposing to take the matter further. Of course, one does not know what proportion of these cases would have settled or been discontinued in any event. But it might be taken to suggest that the scheme will encourage a significant number of cases to settle at a relatively early stage.