ACAS Early Conciliation – mandatory procedures published
The mandatory ACAS early conciliation procedure became available from 6 April 2014 and must be followed by all claimants who issue a claim (unless one of the very limited exceptions apply) from 6 May 2014.
Early conciliation imposes a duty on the parties to engage in settlement discussions before a claim is issued. ACAS will however continue to promote settlement at every stage of the claim and it will continue to offer the same assistance to parties as it previously has done.
Early conciliation, in summary, requires the claimant to contact ACAS before issuing a claim and a claim can only be presented at the tribunal if the claimant has received a certificate from ACAS confirming that early conciliation attempts were unsuccessful. The obligation on the claimant is simply to contact ACAS and that is all. The claimant therefore can choose not to engage in early conciliation and that will be enough to gain a certificate.
ACAS has produced guidance for claimants on the process .This guidance sets out the procedure and also some of the advantages of early conciliation, such as avoiding the time, expense, risk and stress of taking a case to the tribunal.
There are 4 main steps involved in the early conciliation procedure:
1. A prospective claimant must submit an early conciliation form to ACAS (which can be found on the ACAS website) or contact ACAS by telephone. In relation to cases where there is more than one potential respondent, a prospective claimant must submit a separate form for each respondent (or, if notifying ACAS by telephone, identify each potential respondent).
2. An ACAS early conciliation support officer will make contact with the prospective claimant and, if the prospective claimant agrees, pass the information on to a Conciliation Officer (“CO”). The prospective claimant is not obliged to proceed with conciliation.
3. The CO will contact the prospective claimant and, subject to the prospective claimant agreeing, try to promote a settlement between the prospective claimant and the respondent(s) within one calendar month from the date on which the prospective claimant made initial contact with ACAS.
4. If a settlement is not reached, either because it is not possible to contact the parties, the parties do not wish to participate, the CO considers that settlement is not possible, or because one calendar month has expired, an early conciliation certificate must be issued to the claimant.
The certificate will contain a unique reference number which a claimant will need to quote in order to be able to submit a claim form.
The time limits for issuing claims in the tribunal are very short. Early conciliation however “stops the clock” on the time limit from the day after the claimant made contact to ACAS to the day the certificate was deemed received by the claimant. Additionally, a claimant can be afforded extra time since, if the time limit would have expired before one month after the claimant received the certificate, the claimant will then get one month from the date of receipt of the certificate to issue a claim. Therefore, a claimant will always have at least one month to issue a claim after receipt of a certificate.
The claimant should be careful when identifying the respondent(s) in the early conciliation process since the certificate will only be valid if the claimant has identified the correct name and address of the respondent(s).
The opportunity to resolve matters at an early stage should not be ignored by claimants. If the matter settles by way of early conciliation, the claimant will not be required to incur the tribunal issue fee (which is £250 for the majority of cases) and the further fee that is required when a hearing is listed. There are also several other advantages to early conciliation, as listed above.
Joanne Cameron, Employment Solicitor.