ACAS provide a pre-claim conciliation service designed to try and help the parties to reach a settlement and to save them the time and expense of having their claim resolved by an Employment Tribunal.
As part of its Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation the Government considered the possibility of imposing a duty on ACAS to attempt pre-claim conciliation, in order to reduce the number of Employment Tribunal claims. ACAS have now published their response to this consultation and have addressed the manner in which this new system of compulsory, early ACAS conciliation will operate.
Clause 7 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will alter the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 to implement this duty and will introduce the following four step process:-
- Before lodging a claim to initiate proceedings in an Employment Tribunal, a claimant must fill out a form providing certain prescribed information to ACAS (likely to be the parties' names, addresses and contact numbers). The details of the potential claim will not need to be provided. An Early Conciliation Support Officer will then make reasonable efforts to contact the claimant to obtain basic information and outline the conciliation process. In the event that the prospective claimant cannot be contacted, ACAS will issue them with a certificate. It is only once the claimant receives this certificate that they can bring a claim in an Employment Tribunal.
- If the prospective claimant wishes to take part in early conciliation then the Early Conciliation Support Officer will pass the information to a Conciliation Officer who will try to contact both parties. If the prospective respondent does not wish to conciliate then the Conciliation Officer will immediately issue a certificate and a claim can then be brought.
- Where both parties do wish to conciliate, the Conciliation Officer must try to promote a settlement within a "prescribed period". The response to the Government's consultation suggests that this will be within one month.
- If a settlement is not reached, either because settlement is not possible in the Conciliation Officer's view or the prescribed period expires, the Officer must issue a certificate to that effect. A claimant will not be able to submit a claim without this certificate. However, the Officer may continue to promote settlement after the period has elapsed.
There are several circumstances in which a potential claimant need not comply with step 1 above, such as where step 1 has already been complied with by someone else initiating relevant proceedings in relation to the same matter.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will also make amendments to certain primary legislation extending the time limits for bringing claims under these pieces of legislation. As a result of these amendments the "clock will be stopped" from the day the potential Claimant contacts ACAS to the day ACAS issues the certificate.