The Acas early conciliation procedure has been mandatory for claimants (in most cases) since May 2014 when bringing claims in the Employment Tribunal. Its purpose is to offer a period in which the parties to a potential claim can reach a settlement before a claim is issued.
A prospective claimant must comply with the early conciliation requirement by either submitting an Early Conciliation form (EC form) online or by telephoning Acas (on 0300 123 1122) who will then complete the form for them. A separate EC form needs to be completed in respect of each prospective respondent.
Following receipt of the EC form or telephone notification, Acas will contact both parties to ascertain whether they wish to engage in conciliation. If they decide that they do wish to conciliate, the early conciliation procedure is significant in relation to the time limits for bringing an employment tribunal claim.
If early conciliation is not successful, Acas will issue a certificate which is a requirement for bringing an employment tribunal claim with the certificate number having to be included in the ET1 i.e. the claim form.
Usually a claim must be brought within three months from the act complained of, for example, the dismissal. However, when Acas receives an EC form or telephone notification, the time limit for bringing a claim is extended to allow for early conciliation to take place.
Until 1 December 2020, early conciliation lasted for a maximum of one month with the option for the parties to agree to an additional 14 days.
Changes in place from 1 December 2020
- The early conciliation period is extended from one month to six weeks.
- It will no longer be possible for the parties and the Acas conciliator to agree to extend the early conciliation period by 14 days.
- Acas conciliators can correct errors in the EC form at any time during the early conciliation period, for example, incorrect spelling or not having a company’s full name.
Effect of the changes
Though the changes to the early conciliation rules are relatively minor, it should be noted that the extension of the default period for early conciliation could result in some subtle changes. Previously, whilst it was possible for parties to agree to extend the early conciliation period to six weeks, that agreement may not have been forthcoming if they did not feel that conciliation discussions were productive or employers could refuse to put pressure on a potential claimant. With a six-week early conciliation period as standard from 1 December 2020, the expectation is that more cases will be concluded before being issued in the Tribunal. Whether or not this will be borne out remains to be seen.
It is also now easier for errors to be corrected on the EC form. Giving Acas conciliators the ability to amend errors on the EC form might mean that fewer potential respondents fail to receive communications from Acas because of errors in company names, addresses or other contact details.