In April 2014, compulsory ACAS conciliation will be introduced. This will be a 4 step process:
Before lodging a claim with the tribunal, a prospective Claimant must send ACAS an early conciliation form which details “prescribed information” by email, post or in person. At present the “prescribed information” is thought to include just the details of both parties (i.e. names, addresses and contact details).
ACAS will then send a copy of the information to a support officer who will then try to make contact with the prospective Claimant to outline the conciliation process. It is thought that contact will be made by close of business on the day following receipt of the early conciliation form. If the prospective claimant wishes to proceed, the support officer will pass the case to the conciliator.
If the prospective Claimant cannot be contacted or they do not wish to proceed with conciliation, the case will be closed and a certificate confirming that the prospective Claimant has complied with their obligation to contact ACAS will be issued.
If conciliation is wanted by both parties the conciliation officer must try to promote a settlement. They will contact the prospective Claimant to confirm whether or not they wish to attempt settlement. It is thought that this contact will be within two working days of receipt of the early conciliation form by ACAS. The conciliator will make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective Respondent to see if they are willing to participate in conciliation and if they are unable to make contact, an early conciliation certificate will be issued. Again, the initial contact with the prospective Respondent will usually take place within two working days of the conciliator confirming with the prospective claimant that they wish to proceed.
Where both parties have agreed to participate in the conciliation process, the conciliator will have one calendar month from the date of receipt of the early conciliation form to promote a settlement between them. This period may be extended by ACAS for a further 2 weeks if they conciliator believes there is a reasonable prospect of achieving settlement in that time.
If a settlement is not reached, either because settlement is not possible in the conciliation officer’s view or the timeframe for settlement expires, the conciliation officer must issue a certificate to that effect. A claimant will only be able to submit a claim once they have this certificate.
If a settlement is reached, it will be concluded in the usual way – by COT3 agreement or settlement agreement.
It is hoped that this will promote conciliation and reduce the number of claims progressing to tribunal. However, critics have argued that as fees for filing tribunal claims look set to be introduced this year, employers may feel less keen to settle through conciliation and instead force the employee to pay a fee to file their claim before really considering settlement. ACAS will still of course be able to assist as usual after a claim has been filed.