ACAS Early Conciliation: Could it help you?

Caragh Bailey
10 min read
acas early conciliation advice from employment law friend

When you have fallen out with your employer and you cannot find a resolution by other means, or the issue is very serious, you may have to go to court (the employment tribunal). If this is the case, ACAS provide 'early conciliation' to ease communication between you and try to help find a settlement out of court.

Early conciliation is impartial mediation for people who plan to go to the employment tribunal, because of a dispute with their employer over employment law.

Even if you do not think you will be able to solve the problem without taking it to the employment tribunal, it is worth trying early conciliation anyway. If you do happen to reach an agreement ('settlement') outside of court, you may save yourself a lot of money, If you don't, having shown willing to reach a resolution by early conciliation may help your case in court. Plus, ACAS early conciliation is free.

Is ACAS Early Conciliation free?


Will ACAS contact my employer?

The early conciliation process is confidential, they will only contact your employer with your agreement.

Does ACAS Early Conciliation work?

Often ACAS early conciliation works by helping you and your employer reach a settlement agreement without having to go through a tribunal hearing. This might include a payment from your employer, to make up for the issue. If you have left employment, it may also include a nice reference to help you find a new job.

Sometimes you will not be able to find a solution through early conciliation. However, you will have gained a clearer idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Be aware though, that a conciliator must remain impartial and cannot give you the strategic legal advice to help your case that an employment solicitor can.

You must notify ACAS that you intend to make a claim to the employment tribunal first.
- Even if you do not want early conciliation.

Early conciliation is a free way to get help to find a resolution instead of going to tribunal.

Whether conciliation works for you will depend on your individual case.

Before early conciliation and/or taking a claim to tribunal,you should first:
    Try to discuss the issue informally with your boss.

If your grievance or disciplinary procedure is still open but you are running out of time, you can notify ACAS before it is finished. Otherwise, putting your claim in before giving your organisation the chance to resolve it can reflect badly on your case at tribunal. There are some exceptions to this, for example, if your organisation is very small, and the only person who could investigate your grievance is the person who you are making a claim against. The tribunal will understand if you can show that it would be inappropriate to raise a grievance in these circumstances.

If raising a grievance has not solved your problem, hopefully early conciliation will. If you do have to make your claim at the employment tribunal, having shown willing to reach a resolution by early conciliation may help your case in court.

What is the ACAS Early Conciliation time limit?

Three months minus one day.
The ‘limitation date’ to make a claim to the employment tribunal (industrial tribunal in NI) is three months minus one day. In a case of unfair dismissal, this would be 3 months minus one day from the date of dismissal.

If you raise the issue with your employer first, it does not affect your time limit.

You must notify ACAS of your intention to go to tribunal within three months minus one day of the incident.
If the claim is about redundancy pay or equal pay your limitation date is 6 months.

Once you have given ACAS your early conciliation notification, the limitation date will be extended for one month, so that you have time for the early conciliation process before going to the employment tribunal. If you complete your early conciliation with less that one month until your limitation date, your deadline will be extended to one month after you receive your ACAS early conciliation certificate.

How long is the early conciliation process?

Talks take place over the phone for up to one month. If, at the end of that month, you are close to an agreement, talks can be extended by two weeks.

What is the ACAS Early Conciliation process?

    Tell ACAS you intend to make a tribunal claim (within your limitation date).
Make sure that you submit the correct name and address for yourself and your employer, or you may have to resubmit your form, which may put you outside of your time limit. You can find your employers official name and address on your job offer letter, your contract of employment or on your payslip.

If you are bringing a claim against more than one respondent (for example, you are claiming against an individual who harassed you and against your employer, who did not do enough to protect you) you must complete a separate form for each respondent. Forms that list more than one respondent will be rejected.

Submit your early conciliation notification to ACAS now. (If you are part of a group claim, or if your employer has already asked ACAS for early conciliation, you don’t have to submit the form.)

    ACAS will offer you early conciliation.

They will send you an acknowledgement of your notification which will include the key details you have submitted: your name, the name of the organisation or person who you are filing a claim against (usually your employer) and the date they received your notification. This means you don't need to keep a copy of your form. This acknowledgement will also provide an ACAS reference number which will identify your case throughout the process.
Read this page at GOV.UK to find out if you are exempt from early conciliation and can go straight to the employment tribunal.

You can turn down the offer, but, early conciliation can help you find a resolution without the stress and costs of going to Tribunal. Even where you do not think conciliation will provide an acceptable resolution, attempting to find one at early conciliation may help your case if, or when, you go to Tribunal.

    If you do opt for conciliation, ACAS will ask you for the details of your dispute.

If not, they will give you a certificate which will enable you to go straight to tribunal (skip the rest of this article and read more about the tribunal process here).

If they do not hear back from you, they will send you the certificate anyway.

How long is an ACAS certificate valid for?

Your certificate is valid for you to go to tribunal up to one month after the date that the certificate is issued. If you have more than one month left to your original limitation date, you keep the original limitation date and your certificate is valid until then.

    You’ll receive a confirmation letter from ACAS with a phone number
    If you’ve told them you can’t use the phone, they’ll email you.

    You contact ACAS at the phone number or email address provided
    The conciliator will speak with you, (or your representative) to understand how you would like the dispute resolved.
They will ask you some questions about the claim against your employer, this call usually takes about ten minutes.

Make sure you have:
  • The Acas reference number, beginning with R or MU, which can be found on your acknowledgement email.
  • A payslip or other document containing your staff number and the name of your employer

    They will ask your employer if they are willing to take part in early conciliation.
    (If you agree for them to contact your employer)

Tell your conciliator if you have changed address; or,
If you do not want your address shared with your employer.

    The conciliator will speak with both of you to try and find a resolution which satisfies you both.
    (If your employer agrees to take part in early conciliation)

    You reach a resolution OR you end the process.
If you reach a resolution through ACAS, they will draw up a COT3, which is their version of a settlement agreement.
If you are unable to reach a settlement ACAS will issue you with a certificate containing the number you need to submit your claim to tribunal, using an ET1 Form. It is really important to get this filled properly, especially if you are approaching your employment tribunal time limit. Our employment solicitors can help you make your claim.

What happens next?
You can continue to speak to ACAS until a judgment is made at tribunal. You will likely keep the same conciliator.

Conciliation will not affect the tribunal case and remains confidential unless you give permission for your conciliator to share the details of the conciliation process (no longer ‘early’ conciliation).

You can agree to a settlement up until the tribunal takes place, when your case will be heard in a tribunal hearing and a judge will decide what happens next.

Frequently Asked Questions
If you are part of a group making a claim against the same employer, about the same issue, one of you can submit the claim on behalf of the whole group.
If you would prefer for ACAS to deal with a representative (such as your employment solicitor), you can put their details on your form and ACAS will liaise with them directly.
ACAS will give you a form with a number on it, you use this number to fill out form ET1 if you want to take your claim on to tribunal.

Your conciliator can:
Your conciliator can’t:
  • Explain the early conciliation process
  • Talk through the issues with both sides
  • Talk through the possible options moving forward
  • Discuss ways you might be able to resolve the issue instead of going to tribunal
  • Take sides
  • Represent either side legally
  • Help you prepare your legal case
  • Advise you on whether to accept a settlement deal, or go on to tribunal
  • Advise you on the likely outcomes of your trial
ACAS will write your agreement up in a settlement form called a COT3.

This is legally binding even before you have signed it.

You will not be able to take your claim to the employment tribunal.

ACAS will give you a certificate with a number on it, you use this number to fill out form ET1 if you want to take your claim forward to tribunal.

Your certificate is valid for you to go to tribunal up to one month after the date that the certificate is issued. If you have more than one month left to your original limitation date, you keep the original limitation date.

Do you need help or legal advice?
Our employment law specialist advisors can give an initial assessment of your claim, suggest the best next steps and answer your legal questions about the process.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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