From 1 December 2020, changes to the ACAS Early Conciliation framework will come into effect.

The principal alteration is to the timetable for Early Conciliation. To date, the window within which Early Conciliation can take place has been one month from initiation, with a possible two week extension if the parties agree. From 1 December, the Early Conciliation period will be increased to six weeks with no option for extension.

The aim is to simplify the Early Conciliation process and to reduce bureaucracy in the face of increasing caseloads.

ACAS conciliators will also now be permitted to contact parties with a view to correcting mistakes made on Early Conciliation forms, avoiding the need for changes needing to be made once Employment Tribunal claims have been issued.

Employers should note the date that Early Conciliation is initiated by the employee’s notification to ACAS. At present ACAS is extremely busy which can result in an employer not being contacted by an ACAS conciliator for several days or even weeks after an employee has submitted their notification to ACAS. Even where there are such delays, the Early Conciliation period will end six weeks after the date on which employee submits their notification.

What is ACAS Early Conciliation?

Early Conciliation is the first formal step that must be taken by an employee commencement of almost any claim in the Employment Tribunal. An employee contemplating a claim must complete an online form notifying the potential claim to ACAS. If the employee wishes to seek a resolution via conciliation, an ACAS conciliator will make contact with both parties with a view to seeking a mutually agreed resolution. If agreement is not reached within the conciliation period referred to above, an ACAS Early Conciliation certificate is issued. The Employee will need the Certificate Number in order to make most forms of claim in the Employment Tribunal.

If either an employer or employee is not willing to conciliate and they inform ACAS of this, an ACAS Early Conciliation Certificate will be issued immediately, enabling the employee to proceed with a claim. Employers do not receive a copy of the certificate in such circumstances.

Typically an Employment Tribunal Claim must be made within three months of the date on which the claim arose (with some exceptions). During the Early Conciliation period, the ‘clock is stopped’ for the purposes of the limitation period and an employee will always have at least one month from the end of the Early Conciliation period to make a claim, with the limitation period being extended accordingly. Employers should keep this in mind in assessing whether the time for a claim to be made has passed.