Early Conciliation.

It’s official…. early conciliation will come into force on 6th April 2014. Under the new rules, claimants will need to contact ACAS before issuing a tribunal claim, albeit there will be no obligation to actually engage in conciliation.

Date: The early conciliation provisions will apply to claims presented on or after 6 May 2014 (with transitional provisions applying to those presented on or after 6 April).

Procedure:

  1. A prospective claimant must present a completed early conciliation form to ACAS giving their contact details. This can also be done by phone. Presenting the form will ‘stop the clock’ on the time period for a prospective claimant to submit their claim.
  2. ACAS must then make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective claimant. If the prospective claimant consents, ACAS must also make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective respondent. If ACAS is unable to make contact with the prospective claimant or prospective respondent it must conclude that settlement is not possible.
  3. For up to one calendar month, a conciliation officer must endeavour to promote a settlement between the prospective claimant and the prospective respondent. If the conciliation officer considers that there is a reasonable prospect of achieving a settlement, the conciliation officer may extend the period for up to a maximum of 14 days, provided the parties consent.
  4. If the conciliation officer concludes that a settlement is not possible during the period for early conciliation or any extension, or that period expires without a settlement having been reached ACAS must issue a certificate.
  5. ACAS must send a copy of that certificate to the prospective claimant.
  6. The claimant will only be able to present their claim once they have received an early conciliation certificate from ACAS.

Time Limits: the time to bring a claim will only start to run again when the certificate is issued by ACAS. This means the time limit for most claims will be three months plus the time during which ACAS conciliates.

Summary: Although prospective claimants will have to contact ACAS before they bring tribunal proceedings, the decision whether to accept the offer of conciliation will be voluntary. So after making initial contact with ACAS, a prospective claimant who does not want to settle may decline conciliation and proceed to lodge their claim. Similarly prospective respondents can also decline to take part.

In addition to the new tribunal fees which were introduced last year, this new procedure is also aimed at reducing the number of tribunal proceedings albeit by attempting to have disputes resolved without the need for tribunal proceedings.

Only time will tell whether parties’ genuinely use the opportunity to resolve a dispute before action or whether they simply consider it another burdensome hurdle which they need to leap over before they can either lodge or defend an actual claim.

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