Changes to ACAS Early Conciliation

Before a Claimant can issue an Employment Tribunal claim, they must notify ACAS first. ACAS will thereafter contact the Claimant and offer ‘Early Conciliation’ of the claim. If the Claimant agrees to this, ACAS will liaise with the Respondent and the Claimant about the workplace dispute and aim to resolve the issue to avoid the need to start tribunal proceedings. On 1 December 2020, the timescales for early conciliation changed.

What has changed?

Prior to 1 December 2020, the standard ACAS conciliation process was 1 month with a possible extension of a further two weeks.

From 1 December 2020 however, if the parties agree to ACAS conciliation, the conciliation period will be extended to 6 weeks as standard. This removes the onerous process of both sides agreeing to extend the previous one-month period by 14 days, if there is potential to resolve the dispute.

In addition to the extension of the ACAS conciliation period, the rules have also been amended to allow ACAS to contact the Claimant and correct any errors on early conciliation forms, which they did not previously have the power to do. 

Implications for employers

The changes will have little impact on employers in practice but the standardised time frame may make the consociation process simpler for the parties involved. It is also important to remember that the Claimant does not have to agree to early conciliation and if they decide not too they will simply be given a certificate from ACAS confirming they have been notified, so the extension will obviously have little impact in this situation.

During the Early Conciliation period, the limitation period for bringing a claim is paused. When the conciliation period either ends early or is extended, it can lead to difficulties in calculating whether the claim is in-time, using a complex formula to determine the correct date. The introduction of the standard 6-week timeframe may therefore make it easier to calculate whether the claim is in time, as it is no longer necessary to take into account the possible further 14 days.

The amendment to allow ACAS conciliators to amend errors on early conciliation forms could however impact the Respondent’s ability to apply for the claim to be dismissed for this reason.

The changes were introduced to help with the backlog of claims ACAS has been receiving so employers will hopefully be contacted sooner as a result. If you require any support with ACAS conciliation or a tribunal claim you have received, please do not hesitate to contact one of our employment solicitors.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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