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Early conciliation is when ACAS talks to both parties about a dispute. It provides the opportunity to resolve differences and reach an agreement without having to go to an employment tribunal. It is a free, impartial and confidential service.

The advice from ACAS is that “it is always best to resolve workplace disputes as early as possible” and they recommend that complaints are dealt with through the employers grievance and appeals procedures in the first instance. Where this fails to resolve the issue then ACAS must be notified of an intention to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim.

A claim to an employment tribunal must usually be made within 3 months less 1 day. This is known as the ‘limitation date’. For example, if an employee wants to claim for unfair dismissal, they have 3 months less 1 day from the date their employment ended to make the claim.  If it’s a claim about redundancy pay or equal pay, the claim must be made within 6 months.

This notification is made through the completion of an Early Conciliation Notification Form online or by telephone. A conciliation officer from ACAS will then respond, usually within a few days to confirm the basic information and explain the conciliation process. The officer can also talk to the advisor or representative of the complainant.

ACAS state that most people and their employers wish to take part in a conciliation process and that “reaching a settlement through conciliation at the earliest opportunity is quicker, cheaper and less stressful for all concerned than a Tribunal hearing”.

Where the complainant says they would like to try to conciliate the dispute about which they want to make a claim, ACAS will then contact the employer. Where both parties agree to take part in conciliation, the conciliator will contact both. Conciliators remain impartial as they help parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case and suggest ways to resolve the issues. If the dispute is resolved an agreement is prepared by ACAS for both parties to sign. This is referred to as a COT3.

Where the dispute is not resolved or one of the parties do not wish to take part in conciliation ACAS will issue an Early Conciliation Form containing a number that must be included on the ET1 form, without which the tribunal will reject the claim. Taking part in conciliation is entirely voluntary and neither the individual nor the employer actually has to take part in conciliation. However ACAS must be notified of the intention to bring a claim.