The year-old conciliatory service from Acas is helping workers avoid costly employment tribunals, with great results.

Early conciliation is now more than a year old. It’s the scheme by which employees who intend to issue employment tribunal proceedings must first give notice to Acas, (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) so that it has the opportunity of trying to conciliate between the parties.

Before it came in, many derided it as a potential waste of resources and a mere “paper-pushing” exercise. How wrong those naysayers have proved to be.

This week Acas released statistics giving us a whole year’s view on the success of the new service to March 2015. A clear pattern is emerging of approximately 1,600 employee notifications and 50 employer notifications per week.

Acas also released a research paper evaluating the attitudes of parties to the early conciliation process. It showed satisfaction with the Acas service running high, with 79 per cent of claimants and a whopping 86 per cent of employers satisfied with the overall service received. Arguably less impressive was satisfaction with the actual outcome of early conciliation — 48 per cent for claimants and 65 per cent for employers. But, in part, this may be explained by the fact that for claimants it may be simply a question of whether they achieved resolution of their particular case, whereas employers may have discovered it to be a useful process in which to engage.

Positively, the research shows some 96 per cent of claimants secured payment following settlement at early conciliation. Only 63 per cent of claimants who win an award before the tribunal actually get paid.

Three main benefits emerge for taking part in early conciliation; avoiding the need to go to tribunal, reaching resolution more quickly, and incurring lower costs. However, I believe there are more advantages, which the parties are beginning to explore — for example, the unrestricted ability to ask whatever questions you like through the conciliator. This can allow you to establish maximum knowledge of the other side’s case at a comparatively early stage.

Without early conciliation, 33 per cent of claimants said they would just have submitted an employment tribunal claim without trying to settle. Early conciliation would therefore appear to be working to reduce the burden on the tribunal system.

Tellingly, employment tribunal fees are shown to be in part responsible for the fact that 45 per cent of employees do not go on to make a claim, following early conciliation. This is salutary, in the sense that if the Court of Appeal decides in favour of Unison in the employment tribunal fees challenge, and/or if following the recently announced government review there is a decision to reduce employment tribunal fees, if unchecked in some other way, this will inevitably lead to a rise in the number of cases being referred to the tribunal. This may be an outcome the government would like to avoid or ameliorate.

There is currently some debate about the future of BIS, the department for Business, Industry and Skills, and presumably which government department will, in future, be responsible for Acas. Wherever it lives, one thing is clear, Acas-led early conciliation has proved its worth in its first year of operation, and deserves continued financial support in the interests of all parties — employees, employers and the taxpayer.

This article first appeared in The Times in July 2015.