ACAS four-week Early Conciliation period extended
The rules for Acas’ Early Conciliation have changed since 1 December 2020.
Employment Tribunal claims can be time consuming and costly for both parties involved. This is why, usually under the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014, those considering bringing a tribunal claim of any kind (save for a handful of claims not covered by the legislation) must notify Acas that they intend to do so. This is usually done via an online form on which the employee gives their contact details and that of their employer. Lodging this form then 'stops the clock' for up to one month, as regards the time limits for bringing a claim to the tribunal, to give Acas a chance to facilitate a settlement between the parties.
Now, the national and local restrictions put in place to tackle the coronavirus has meant that the backlog of cases currently faced by tribunals in the UK has greatly increased. The pressure resulting from the impact of coronavirus and the number of cases still awaiting hearing has meant that tribunal resources have had to suffer the consequences. Upon closer inspection of tribunal claim figures using the statistics released by the Ministry of Justice for April-June 2020 we see that, compared to January-March 2020, claims for:
- failure to consult on TUPE have increased by 103%
- failure to provide National Minimum Wage have increased by 46%
- age discrimination have increased by 9%
These figures not only give an impression as to why the backlog of tribunal cases is so great but it also shines a light on why recent cases brought to tribunals in England are being given hearing dates of up to 14 months in the future; for example, at a London South Tribunal, hearings for complex cases are not being listed until December 2021.
Further figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 23% of claims dealt with in the April-June quarter were settled through ACAS conciliated agreements.
The Government has now made changes to the Early Conciliation rules, under the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. In force since 1 December 2020, there will now be a 6-week conciliation period for all claims, rather than the one-month period, and in addition to that, both parties as well as the Acas conciliation officer will be able to correct any errors in the early conciliation form “at any time during the early conciliation period.”
In the old legislation, the original one-month period could be extended by a further 14 days if the parties agreed to it, however, the new six-week period will no longer carry that opportunity. Instead, there will be a default period, of six-weeks, which the parties will have to reach a resolution if they can. These changes shouldn’t have much of an impact on employers, except that it will now be much harder for claims to be struck out due to errors in the early conciliation form. Overall, it is yet to be seen whether this move will increase the probability that the parties can reach settlement without going to a tribunal.