Changes to Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Early Conciliation Process
17th December, 2020
ACAS is an independent, impartial organisation, set up by the government, whose task is to liaise between the parties to an employment dispute with regard to possible settlement.
ACAS Early Conciliation is a procedure for a prospective claimant to follow before they can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET), with an effort to prevent litigation, which has been mandatory since 2014.
Until 30 November 2020, where both parties agreed to conciliate, the ACAS Early Conciliation period was automatically one month in length albeit it could be extended by up to 14 days where the conciliator considered that there was a reasonable prospect of achieving a settlement by the end of the extended period and both parties agreed to the extension. With effect from 1 December 2020, the ET Amendment Regulations 2020 amended the ACAS Early Conciliation period to a standard length of 6 weeks and removed the ability to extend the Early Conciliation period as per the previous regulations.
If the Early Conciliation procedure does not result in a settlement or either party does not wish to conciliate, ACAS will issue the prospective claimant with a certificate. They can then use the certificate number on their ET1 form to bring a claim in the ET. If a party does not obtain an ACAS certificate and chooses to issue a claim at the ET, then the Tribunal can reject the claim for failing to comply with the ET Rules.
If an out of court settlement is reached, the form used by conciliators to record the settlement, known as a ‘COT3’, ends the dispute and prevents a further claim at the ET from either of the parties. Careful consideration of the wording within a COT3 form should be given as once the parties have confirmed their agreement to the terms via ACAS, a binding agreement will have been reached.
There can be many benefits for parties to agree to an attempt at Early Conciliation. The foremost is that it offers a neutral and impartial service in matters which are often emotive. It is also much quicker than bringing or defending an employment claim and relying on the matter to be decided at the ET, which currently has an extensive backlog of cases. A further advantage of the conciliation process is that it is free of charge.
While Early Conciliation can be an effective tool in most disputes it cannot make either party agree to a settlement or help either party in the event of intended litigation, and Conciliators cannot assist parties in the preparation of ET documents or for hearings, or provide legal advice. We would advise that if you find yourself in an Employment Law dispute then seeking legal advice would be beneficial in helping to understand all aspects of the matter, assessing the risks and potential costs involved with litigation and therefore assisting with considering any potentially realistic settlement value, advising upon the wording of any potential settlements, drafting any required ET documentation and assisting with any ET litigation process.
If you would like further advice on Early Conciliation or any other Employment Law related matter then please do not hesitate to contact Tori Shepherd.
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