Early Conciliation; what is it and why do you need to know?
The Early Conciliation Scheme (EC) requires all individuals who are considering taking an employment claim to the Employment Tribunal to approach ACAS to see whether the dispute can be resolved through conciliation before lodging their claim. EC has been in force since 6th April 2014 but only became mandatory on 6th May 2014. In the first month when EC was optional, over 4,000 applications were made to ACAS with 98% of parties confirming that they were willing to explore a settlement and in fact, the first EC case was settled within 24 hours! However, it is anticipated that with EC becoming compulsory, the volume of applications will increase and the turnaround times will likely increase also.
From 6th May 2014, all “prospective claimants” must contact ACAS to provide their name and address and the name and address of the prospective respondent. Once this information is passed to ACAS, they will contact both the prospective claimant and the prospective respondent to ask whether the parties are agreeable to reaching a settlement. Neither party is obliged to agree to EC, however, if the parties do agree, ACAS will then have one calendar month to achieve a settlement between them, with a possibility of a further two weeks beyond that. If a settlement cannot be achieved, ACAS will issue an “EC Certificate” to confirm that EC was attempted but failed. The number of the EC Certificate must now be stated on a tribunal application form before the Employment Tribunal will consider the claim. ACAS have published a short guidance booklet to explain the EC Scheme which can be accessed at http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/h/o/Early-Conciliation-explained.pdf
A key advantage to prospective claimants in undergoing EC is that it will “stop the clock” on the time period within which they must raise their claim, and from the prospective respondent’s perspective, EC may provide an opportunity to reach an agreeable settlement at an early stage which will also avoid the potential issue of reimbursement of Tribunal fees since no claim will have been raised. Furthermore, in the event that EC is not successful, both parties may at least be more informed as to the other party’s position during the Tribunal process which ought to help focus proceedings to the matters which are truly in dispute.