Making friends with the ACAS early conciliation scheme

ACAS’ recently published statistics provide a detailed picture of the operation of the scheme in its first year. These figures, together with an in-depth evaluation demonstrate its potential benefits, particularly for smaller employers including those in the charity sector..

Introduced in April 2014, the scheme prevents most claims proceeding to an employment tribunal without first being referred to ACAS. The common name for it – compulsory early conciliation – is in fact rather misleading because while the referral itself is compulsory, there is no requirement for either party to agree to explore conciliation. However, the statistics show that the offer to conciliate is accepted by the vast majority of those involved in the process – around 90% of both claimant and employer groups.

This participation rate clearly contributes to the relatively high success rate at the early conciliation stage. The statistics show that 15% of potential claims are settled on a COT3 – the form generated by ACAS to document a settlement. ACAS estimates that a further 10% reached an informal settlement.

Interestingly only 22% of potential claims progressed to a full tribunal claim.

These raw figures are reflected in the survey, which was based on telephone interviews with over 2500 participants. The survey also reveals a wealth of information about the participants in the process and the reasons for the decisions they took. Among employers who refused to take part, more than half said it was because they thought their organisation had no case to answer.

Whether or not these sceptics were in fact correct, it would be hard to argue that participating in conciliation makes facing an employment claim more likely.  It is worth remembering that 22% did not progress to a claim. Further 87% of employers interviewed said they would use the service again. In short the message seems to be that employers engaging in the conciliation service have little to fear and much to gain. It is likely to be particularly valuable for smaller businesses and charities who have no access to an in-house employment specialist.

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