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Disputes and Early Conciliation

03 May 2019

David Rushmere


In order to commence an employment tribunal claim, a claimant must (except in very limited circumstances) include an Early Conciliation reference number in their claim form.  Without the reference number, the tribunal will reject the claim. The Early Conciliation reference number is issued by ACAS following an attempt at early conciliation by the employee and their employer.

In this newsletter, we look at the role of ACAS and the benefit to trying to settle employment claims before they reach the tribunal stage.

What is ACAS?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (or ACAS) is a government body that has the purpose of improving working life through the promotion and facilitation of strong industrial relations practice.  Part of ACAS’s responsibility is to facilitate Early Conciliation between employers and employees.

What is Early Conciliation?

Early Conciliation require the parties to a workplace dispute to contact ACAS at an early stage so that ACAS can attempt to facilitate the resolution and settlement of an employment dispute and so avoid, where possible, the need for the employee to issue employment tribunal claims.  Generally, it is the employee who will contact ACAS first but employers are permitted to contact ACAS if they wish.

Why take part in Early Conciliation?

Defending an employment tribunal claim can be very expensive.  It is quite possible for a straightforward tribunal claim to run to legal costs in the region of £30,000 to £50,000.  Unfortunately, the general rule in tribunals is that both sides bear their own costs.  This is true even where a claim is successfully defended. 

As costs cannot be recovered, all employers should consider whether it is prudent to settle a claim at an early stage.  Early Conciliation provides an opportunity for an employer to listen to an employee’s complaint and then take advice on its merits.  If it appears that the complaint may be valid, or if it is not worth defending, then the employer may propose a reasonable settlement offer of compensation to the employee.  If the offer is accepted then the employee will not be able to be able to bring their claim in the tribunal. 


As the early conciliation process is confidential, the employee cannot refer to it later.  This helps if the negotiations are not successful as the employer will be able to defend the claim without being held to any concession it may have made during the negotiation.  Equally, if the negotiation is successful, the employer can avoid the negative publicity that may come with being sued in a public tribunal. 


If the early conciliation process results in a settlement, then the ACAS officer has the power to make the agreement between the two parties legally binding.  Once the agreement is binding, the employee cannot pursue a claim in the tribunal or any other court relating to the matters that are covered by the settlement.

If you would like any advice about early conciliation, please contact a member of our employment team.

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David Rushmere