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Acas Early Conciliation Update
Acas Early Conciliation was introduced in 2014 and in my view it has proved to be a successful innovation. Provided both the employee and employer adopt a reasonable and realistic approach to the negotiations, which includes recognising the true merits of a claim, early conciliation can avoid the time and cost of an Employment Tribunal case. This is a benefit for both sides.
Almost all claimants have to apply for Acas Early Conciliation before being able to submit a valid Employment Tribunal claim. The process must be commenced within three months less one day from the date of dismissal or act of discrimination. If conciliation fails, Acas will then issue an Early Conciliation Certificate and the time limit for starting a claim in the Employment Tribunal is automatically extended for at least one month. In order for the claim to be accepted it must include the Early Conciliation number.
From 1 December 2020 regulations came into force that increased the length of the Early Conciliation period from one calendar month to six weeks. However, there is no longer any ability for Acas to extend the conciliation period by 14 days. This means the maximum period is six weeks. This is a welcome change especially as Acas conciliation officers can struggle to contact the parties in good time as a result of too many cases and insufficient officers. Conciliators also now have the power to contact the parties to correct errors in the early conciliation form at any time during the early conciliation period. This will be helpful to correct the name of the employer or other key information.
It is my advice that if Acas calls you to discuss the option of early conciliation in most cases employers should take up the offer. There is nothing to lose and even if you decide you do not want to reach a negotiated settlement on the proposed terms, you are likely to obtain useful information about the claimant’s point of view and supporting evidence. If early conciliation fails within the six week period, Acas will still be available to help move the case towards a settlement right up to just before the final hearing. Many clients overlook the fact that the end of early conciliation in practice allows the employee to start his or her claim but it need not be the end of without prejudice discussions. It can take more than six weeks for the employee, especially if a litigant in person, to appreciate the true merits and value of their case.