Commencement orders have confirmed that the mandatory period for Acas early conciliation of potential tribunal claims will apply to claims lodged from 6 May 2014, with transitional provisions covering the period from 6 April to 5 May. Claimants can choose to contact Acas for early conciliation from 6 April and, if they do so, must obtain an Acas early conciliation certificate that the process has finished before lodging their claim (in the same way as for post 5 May claims).

The early conciliation regime requires a prospective claimant to submit a form to, or telephone, Acas giving their name and address and that of at least one prospective respondent. The parties will then be offered pre-claim conciliation for one month, with a potential two week extension. This ‘stops the clock’ on the time limits for submitting the ET1 for the period of conciliation, and the claimant is also given a minimum of one month post conciliation to lodge the claim. The prospective claimant does not have to provide any details about the nature of the dispute. There is no obligation on either party to engage in the conciliation process; in that event, Acas will issue the certificate and the process ends.

The scheme applies to most claims, subject to a few exemptions. These include where the respondent has already contacted Acas in connection with the matter. In this case, prospective claimants can nevertheless contact Acas themselves in order to benefit from the time limit extensions.

For employers, the new regime will mean more contact from Acas and potentially longer periods between the dispute and a tribunal claim being lodged, given the extension to time limits. It is also hoped that the process will lead to more pre-claim settlement.