The detailed legal framework for the compulsory early conciliation scheme has now been published. The scheme will launch 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.

The rules of the scheme are relatively simple. They require potential claimants in all the commonly encountered jurisdictions to approach ACAS before issuing proceedings. All they need to do is 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.

To allow time for compulsory conciliation, time limits for issuing proceedings will be extended in two ways. First, the limitation clock will be stopped during the conciliation period. Secondly, if the time limit would otherwise have expired during that period, claimants will have a further month after it ends to lodge proceedings. As a result of these new rules, the normal three month time limit for bringing proceedings will be considerably extended – in some cases by as much as two and a half months.