Early conciliation is intended to encourage parties who are in dispute to try and resolve their differences without resorting to litigation. The process starts when you notify Acas using a notification form which you can complete here, or you can call Acas on 0300 123 1100. You cannot present a claim to the Employment Tribunal unless you have notified Acas.
The form is simple to complete, and certain basic information must be provided, such as your contact details, dates of employment and the Respondent's contact details. Your form will not be accepted if you do not provide this information. If there is more than one Respondent, you will need to complete a separate form for each Respondent.
When you submit the form, you will be asked to call Acas who will check the details in your form, and ask you for brief details about what your dispute is about and explain how early conciliation works.
After this, you should receive a call from an Acas conciliator within one working day. The conciliator will explain what the next steps are and ask if you want to proceed with early conciliation.
You do not need to proceed if you do not want to, in which case Acas will issue an Employment Tribunal Certificate which will allow you to present a claim to the Employment Tribunal. However, most people try to settle their disputes.
If you want to continue with the early conciliation process, the conciliator will contact the Respondent which is generally within one working day. You should note that both parties have to agree to participate in early conciliation. If one party does not agree, then Acas will issue an Employment Tribunal Certificate.
When early conciliation is not necessary
There are a few situations where you can present a claim even if you have not engaged in early conciliation. For example, if you are one of a number of Claimants in a group action and one of them has already notified Acas or engaged in early conciliation. Alternatively, if the Respondent has already contacted Acas about the dispute, then you will not need to go through the process again.
Early conciliation also does not apply when your claim form includes certain types of excepted claims. But most employment claims are not excepted.
When early conciliation is successful
If early conciliation is successful, which usually means a settlement is agreed, Acas will help you and the Respondent to record the agreement in a form called a "COT3" which will bring the dispute to an end.
As part of the settlement agreement, the Respondent may ask you to sign away certain rights you have to present a claim to the Employment Tribunal or a Court. If this happens, you should consider seeking advice.
When early conciliation is not successful
At the end of the early conciliation period, or sooner if it becomes clear that conciliation will not succeed, Acas will issue an Employment Tribunal Certificate to you. If Acas contacted the Respondent, then the certificate will also be sent to the Respondent.
Length of early conciliation
Early conciliation can last from one day to one month. This period can be extended by 14-days if Acas consider that there is a possibility of settling within the extended 14-days period. However, if you subsequently make a claim to the Employment Tribunal, Acas will continue to offer conciliation after the early conciliation period has ended.
Knowing how long early conciliation takes is important because the length of time it takes (or the number of days it lasts for) is added to the ordinary time limit.
How to work out how long early conciliation takes
The start of early conciliation
Early conciliation starts on the day after Acas has been notified. This is called Day A.
The end of early conciliation
Early conciliation ends on the day the Employment Tribunal Certificate is received. This is called Day B.
The length of the conciliation period
During Early conciliation, the time limit clock is paused or stopped. If the claim does not settle, the clock starts running again from Day B. Time is added to the original time limit for presenting a claim to make up for the time taken for early conciliation.
Here are examples of how to work out how much time will be added to the ordinary time limit:
Example of a short conciliation period
Acas notified of a potential claim on 1 February.
On 2 February Acas find out that one or more of the parties do not wish to engage in early conciliation. The early conciliation certificate is issued by email on 2 February.
In this example, early conciliation lasted for one day.
Example of a long conciliation period
Acas notified of a potential claim on 1 February.
Early conciliation begins the day after on 2 February. This is Day A.
Early conciliation lasts until 1 March. Acas think there is a reasonable prospect that the claim will settle and the early conciliation period is extended by 14 days from 1 March to 15 March.
The claim does not settle, and the early conciliation certificate is issued by email on 15 March. This is Day B.
In this example, early conciliation lasted for 42-days.
Early conciliation and ordinary time limits
In most cases, you must make your claim within three months (less one day) from the date the action you are complaining about took place. For example, if you were summarily dismissed on 28 February, then you will ordinarily need to make a claim by 27 May otherwise the claim will be time-barred. You can find out more about time limits here.
Early conciliation adds to this period because the time-limit clock is paused or stopped. The clock starts again when you receive, or you are considered to have received an Employment Tribunal Certificate.
The Early Conciliation Certificate confirms that you entered into early conciliation. You will be considered as having received an Employment Tribunal Certificate as follows:
If the certificate is emailed, you are deemed to have received it on the day it was emailed.
If the certificate is posted, you are deemed to have received it within the normal postal delivery time.
All of the above means that the period of time for which early conciliation lasts (counting from the day after you start the early conciliation process to the day you receive the certificate) is added onto the normal time limit.
How to work out extended the time limits
If the original time limit falls between Day A and one month after Day B
In this case, the new time limit will be one month after Day B.
If the original time limit falls more than one month after Day B
In this case, the time limit extends by a period equivalent to the early conciliation period. The length of the early conciliation period will be calculated from the day after Day A up to and including Day B.
Example of time limit that falls between Day A and one month after Day B
The Claimant is dismissed on 31 May. The original time limit would end on 30 August.
Early conciliation starts on 15 August; this is Day A.
Early conciliation ends on 5 September; this is Day B.
The original time limit falls within the period beginning with Day A (15 August) and ending one month after Day B (5 September, BUT adding one month to this will make the date 5 October).
The original time limit was 30 August. In this example, time is extended to 5 October.
Example of time limit that falls more than one month after Day B
The Claimant was dismissed on 31 May. The original time limit would end on 30 August.
Early conciliation starts on 15 June; this is Day A.
Early conciliation ends 20 days later on 5 July; this is Day B.
The original time limit does not fall within the period from Day A (15 June) and ending one month after Day B (5 July BUT 30 August is more than one month after Day B).
Early conciliation lasted for 20 days. Therefore, 20 days is added to the original time limit of 30 August.
In this example, time is extended to 19 September (for example, 20 days are added to the original time limit of 30 August).
It may be seen from the above examples that a Claimant will never have less than one month to make a claim from the date that the early conciliation certificate is received, for example, from Day B.
There is also a special provision that means that you will never have less than one month to bring a claim after you receive the certificate.
When the ordinary time limit has passed
You will still need an Employment Tribunal Certificate if the original time limit has passed before you can make a claim which means you will need to notify Acas even although your claim may be out of time or time-barred.