Early Conciliation

Early Conciliation was introduced following the success of Acas’s Pre- claim Conciliation service (PCC). The PCC was introduced in 2009 on a voluntary basis with its success being measured by the number of tribunal claims avoided.

With research showing that three-quarters of PCC cases did not go to tribunal and that its requirements took up only one day of management time, compared to the five days taken up by tribunals, it became the Early Conciliation service. The service was voluntary in April 2014 but became compulsory the following month.

The requirement of the Early Conciliation service is that any employee considering taking their employer to a tribunal must contact Acas first – it does not mean that Acas has to find a settlement. The only exceptions are if the employee is part of a multiple claim, which Acas has already been informed of, or if the employer has contacted Acas. Even if the working relationship has broken down to the extent an employee has issued an injunction against his or her employer, Acas must be contacted before a tribunal claim can be made.

Early Conciliation covers most types of claims including unfair dismissal, discrimination, redundancy selection or payments, deductions from wages or unpaid notice or holiday pay, rights to time off and flexible working, and equal pay.

Once contacted, Acas will aim to respond to the person who has made contact within two working days to clarify any points and explain what conciliation can and cannot do. The details will then be passed to a conciliator who will contact both parties within one working day of receiving the case and offer Early Conciliation, which is free for both employers and employees. Acas has up to one month to resolve the issue, which is extendable by two weeks if both parties agree and Acas representatives feel Early Conciliation is likely to be successful. If Early Conciliation fails Acas will issue an Early Conciliation certificate and the issue can be brought before a tribunal. The Early Conciliation process has the effect of ‘stopping the clock’ on the timetable for bringing a tribunal claim.

Early Conciliation will enable parties to explore the possibility of settlement before tribunal fees are due and, in many cases, before positions become entrenched. As a result, it moves employment relations from a process where arguments revolve around whether certain procedures have been carried out to one where both parties are encouraged to talk about the issues that have arisen.

At the time of writing the results for the first full year of Early Conciliation had not been published but figures for the first nine months of the scheme indicate that 67% of cases were resolved without going to tribunal. A conciliation agreement can be formalised through a legal document called a COT3 if both parties want this but in practice, only 16.3% of claims resulted in a legally-binding COT3. This is either because the employee decided not to proceed or the employer simply implemented the agreed solution. Between April 2014, when the service was still voluntary, and December 2014, Acas received nearly 61,000 Early Conciliation notifications. The majority were made by individual employees, some were group actions and some were employer notifications. In total, the Early Conciliation notices received in 2014 covered more than 76,000 employees.