The ACAS early conciliation scheme launched on 6 April. Subject to limited exceptions, from 6 May onwards it will not be possible to start an employment tribunal claim without first involving ACAS.

Potential claimants in all the commonly encountered jurisdictions must approach ACAS before issuing proceedings. They will need to supply their name and address and that of the potential respondent, either over the phone or by completing a simple form. There will then be a month-long period (subject to a maximum two week extension) during which an ACAS conciliation officer must “endeavour to promote a settlement”.

If, at any stage in this process, the conciliation officer concludes that a settlement cannot be reached, he or she must issue an early conciliation certificate. This can include a situation where ACAS is unable to make contact with the potential claimant or respondent after making “reasonable attempts” to do so. The conciliation period ends once the potential claimant has received this certificate.

Amendments to the employment tribunal rules of procedure will require claimants to quote the certificate number on the claim form, otherwise it will be rejected. There are limited exceptions to this rule, including for multiple claims where another party has approached ACAS.

The number of claims being registered at the tribunal has dropped dramatically since fees were imposed last year. It will be interesting to see whether the introduction of compulsory early conciliation will lead to a further drop in the number of disputes reaching the employment tribunal.

Further details about the new scheme can be found on our website here and via ACAS here.