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Early conciliation - how it works

This advice applies to England

If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal, you must notify Acas of your potential claim first.

This page tells you about the early conciliation process. Early conciliation has an important effect on the time limit for claims, so you must also look at the page on Early conciliation – how it affects the time limit for making a claim.

What is early conciliation?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) runs a scheme to try to resolve a dispute before it goes to an employment tribunal. This process is free and confidential and is called early conciliation.

You must contact Acas to tell them that you intend to bring a claim before you can present a claim to an employment tribunal. This does not mean that you actually have to take part in conciliation. You only have to notify Acas of your potential claim.

Which disputes does early conciliation apply to?

Early conciliation applies to most employment disputes, including claims for:

  • unfair dismissal
  • workplace discrimination
  • redundancy payments or disputes over selection procedures
  • deductions from wages or unpaid notice or holiday pay
  • rights to time off or flexible working
  • equal pay.

The early conciliation process

There are a number of steps to the early conciliation process.

Flowchart - the early conciliation process

Step one: You contact Acas either by completing an online form or by telephone. A conciliation officer will contact you within two working days to confirm basic information about your case and explain the early conciliation process. If you prefer, you can ask them to talk to your adviser instead.

Step two: If you say that you would like to try to conciliate the dispute about which you want to make a claim, Acas will contact your employer. If you and your employer agree to take part in conciliation, an Acas conciliator will contact you both. If you resolve your dispute, Acas will prepare an agreement for you both to sign. This is referred to as a COT3 which is the name of the form used.

Step three: If you do not resolve your dispute, or if you or your employer do not want to take part in conciliation (see next step), Acas will issue an early conciliation certificate. The certificate has a number which you must include on your ET1 claim form. If you do not include this number, the employment tribunal will reject your claim.

Step four: Taking part in conciliation is entirely voluntary so neither you nor your employer actually has to take part in conciliation. The only thing you must do is notify Acas that you intend to bring a claim. Acas will issue a certificate and you can proceed with your claim. You must include the certificate number on your ET1 form or the employment tribunal will reject it.

What should you put on the early conciliation form

The early conciliation form only requires details of the parties to the dispute, that is, your and your employer’s name and contact details. There is no section on the form to include details of your potential claim.

You should include the correct name for your employer. If you then make a claim to the tribunal, the name of the employer on your ET1 will need to correspond to the name on the early conciliation notification form. If the names are different this could lead to the claim being rejected by the tribunal.

If your dispute is with more than one employer or person, you must complete a separate form for each. If conciliation fails and you take your case to an employment tribunal, you will need to give the early conciliation certificate number for each employer or person.

What a conciliator will and won’t do

The conciliator will:

  • talk through the issues with both sides to try to achieve a solution
  • explain the conciliation process
  • explain the way employment tribunals operate, and what they take into account when deciding a case
  • discuss the options open to you, including arbitration, if appropriate
  • help you to understand how the other side views the case, and explore with you how it might be resolved without a hearing
  • tell you about any proposals the other side has for a settlement.

The conciliator won’t:

  • make a judgement on the case, or the likely outcome of a hearing
  • advise you whether or not to accept any offers of settlement
  • advise you on the effect of early conciliation on time limits for your claim or calculate the new time limit for you
  • act as your representative, take sides, or help you prepare your case.

Can an employer ask for early conciliation?

In most cases, it will be an employee who asks for early conciliation. However, an employer can do so too.

However, if they do, you should be aware that time for making your claim to the employment tribunal will not be stopped and so there will be no extension of time limit.

If this is the case, you should ask for early conciliation yourself, in order to stop the clock and get the extension of time to make your claim.

When do you not need to notify Acas

There are a few circumstances in which you don’t need to notify Acas. These are:

  • another person you're making the claim with already has an Acas early conciliation certificate
  • Acas doesn't have the power to conciliate on some or all of your claim
  • your employer has already contacted Acas (but see above for what this means for you)
  • you are claiming unfair dismissal and making an application for interim relief
  • your claim is against the Security Service, the Special Intelligence Service or GCHQ.

Know how much your claim is worth

Before you take part in early conciliation, it is important for you to know how much your potential claim is worth so that you have an idea of what is a reasonable offer to settle your claim.

How to contact Acas to ask for early conciliation

It's best to fill in the early conciliation notification form on the Acas website. If you'd find this difficult, you can call the early conciliation line on 0300 123 11 22.  

If you want to check if early conciliation is right for you, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100 to speak to an Acas adviser.  

Next steps

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