Acas welcomes "good start" for mandatory employment dispute conciliation scheme

Out-Law News | 09 Sep 2014 | 12:06 pm | 2 min. read

Over 17,000 people have used a new service which aims to resolve an employment dispute quickly without the need for an employment tribunal since it became available in April.

Acas, the publicly-funded conciliation service, said that the figures showed that the early conciliation scheme had had a "successful start". Around 1,000 people contacted Acas about the service each week during April, which increased to around 1,600 people a week during May and June after contacting Acas before a claim could proceed to tribunal became mandatory.

"Early conciliation has got off to a good start and has given us the chance to help more people resolve their disputes early," said Anne Sharp, chief executive of Acas. "The service has only been running for three months and it is still too soon to give a comprehensive analysis of the full impact of our new service but early indications are very positive."

According to the figures, 17,145 people used the early conciliation service between April and June 2014, with first contact coming from the employee rather than the employer in the overwhelming majority of cases. Of the approximately 11,355 cases which both began and ended the process during those three months, 16.5% ended in formal settlement with a COT3 form issued. A further 19% of employees told Acas they did not intend to take their case further.

Since 6 May, anyone planning to bring an employment dispute to a tribunal has been required to notify Acas of their intention to do so. The notification triggers an offer of early conciliation, where Acas will attempt to help the parties come to a resolution. However, parties do not have to accept the offer and neither businesses nor individuals are required to settle a case through the scheme. Since the scheme began, 7% of employees and 9% of employers rejected the offer of conciliation, according to Acas.

Early conciliation replaced pre-claim conciliation (PCC), an Acas service introduced in 2009 as a way of potentially resolving disputes without the need for any legal claim to be submitted in the first place. According to a blog post written by Andrew Wareing, chief operating officer of Acas, this scheme achieved formal settlements in around 24% of cases and led to 50% of those in dispute agreeing to drop their claims. However, Wareing said that the two schemes were not directly comparable.

"The settlement rate [achieved since early conciliation was made available] is lower than the 24% figure ... but it is in line with our expectations," he said.

"PCC cases were limited to those where the claimant appeared to expect Acas Helpline advisers to have the basis of a legal claim and an intention to exercise it, had exhausted internal procedures, and indicated in advance that they wished Acas to make contact with their (ex) employer to see if the dispute could be resolved voluntarily. These cases were therefore selected precisely because they were promising for settlement," he said.

Early conciliation cases, on the other hand, were not "sifted in this way", Wareing said. Although the settlement rate was slightly lower, the total number of cases resolved was much higher, indicating that the new scheme was "achieving precisely what was intended", he said.

Acas said that it would soon begin surveying users of the service to gain feedback and support continuous improvement of the scheme. The results of these surveys would be published, it said. However, these would not be carried out "until the service has been in place for sufficient time to provide a reliable picture", it said.