The statutory Acas Early Conciliation Service was launched on 6 April 2014. Acas has published a booklet explaining the service and the requirements.
For employment tribunal claims lodged on or after 6 May 2014, a prospective claimant must make an early conciliation notification to Acas. Tribunal claims will not be accepted unless the complaint has been referred to Acas and a conciliation certificate issued. This certificate confirms that the early conciliation requirements have been met.
Once Acas has been notified, the appointed conciliation officer will attempt to contact both parties to establish whether or not there is a desire to settle the matter. If so, a conciliation period will follow. If there is no desire to settle the matter or engage in conciliation from either or both parties, the conciliator will issue an Early Conciliation Certificate (“ECC”) with a unique code. Similarly, if conciliation fails for whatever reason, an ECC will be issued.
Where both parties wish to resolve the dispute, the conciliator will be allocated one calendar month to try to reach a settlement and this may be extended by up to two weeks. If a prospective claimant contacts Acas during the last remaining month for limitation purposes, for example in an ordinary unfair dismissal claim during the third month after the termination of the contract of employment, the Claimant will be given a whole month after the ECC is issued to present the claim to the Tribunal.
Claimants will need to enter the ECC’s unique code on their ET1 claim form to show they have complied with the early conciliation requirements, otherwise their claim will be rejected.
This new requirement is welcome news for employers. Although there is no obligation for either party to engage in conciliation, this is another hurdle that prospective claimants will need to overcome (in addition to payment of employment tribunal fees). There may be confusion about the effect that early conciliation has on the limitation period and this may result in some claimants missing the limitation deadline.