Using early conciliation
If you can, you should try to solve a problem at work by talking to your manager or raising a grievance.
If you can't, or you've tried and that hasn't worked, you need to think about whether the problem is something you can take to an employment tribunal.
For example, a tribunal can help if you’ve been denied a right you’re entitled to, dismissed or treated unfairly.
If you want to make a tribunal claim, you have to go through a process called early conciliation first through an organisation called Acas.
Conciliation is a process where the 2 sides in a legal dispute try to reach an agreement before the case is heard in a court or tribunal. Acas is a government-funded body whose job is to help with this process in workplace disputes.
Each side can tell the other what they want through Acas. This could be a financial settlement in return for which you’ll agree not to go to a tribunal, or you might want your employer to agree to change the way they’re treating you.
Early conciliation takes place before you’ve started your tribunal claim. If it doesn’t lead to an agreement, conciliation can start again after you’ve made your claim. It’s then just called conciliation, not early conciliation.
Starting early conciliation doesn’t mean you have to make a tribunal claim if you can’t settle your dispute.
After early conciliation, you’ll get either:
- an ‘early conciliation certificate’ if you couldn’t come to an agreement or didn’t want to try - you’ll then be able to go to a tribunal
- a COT3 agreement - a legal agreement that you and your employer have to stick to
You don’t need to contact Acas to start early conciliation if:
- you’re part of a group of people making a claim together and one of the other people has already contacted Acas and included you in the group claim
- you’re asking for ‘interim relief’ - to be paid or kept on when you’ve been dismissed in some specific case
- you work for the security services
Deadlines for early conciliation
You must start early conciliation within 3 months less 1 day from the date of the thing you’re complaining about. If you’re claiming statutory redundancy pay or equal pay, the deadline is 6 months less 1 day.
If you miss this deadline any tribunal claim you then make will also be late and in many cases, you’ll lose your right to make a claim.
If early conciliation doesn’t lead to an agreement, you’ll always have at least 1 month after it ends to make your claim to a tribunal. Sometimes, you’ll have more than 1 month because starting early conciliation extends the deadline for making a claim.
If you missed the deadline for starting early conciliation
Start early conciliation as soon as you can - conciliation might still help you solve the problem with your employer. Starting early conciliation late means that if you don’t reach an agreement and have to make a tribunal claim, your claim will also be late and the tribunal might not allow it to go ahead.
You have to have a very good reason for missing the deadline - like a serious illness.
If you start early conciliation late, a tribunal will disregard any time you’ve spent in early conciliation when calculating how late your claim is.
It will be up to the tribunal to decide whether to let you make a late claim. You should contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’ve missed the deadline.
Early conciliation lasts up to 1 month. If Acas think you’re close to reaching an agreement, they can extend that period by 2 weeks.
If your employer starts early conciliation
It’s very unlikely that your employer will start early conciliation but if they do, the deadline for making a tribunal claim won’t be extended.
If you think you might want to make a tribunal claim, you should contact Acas yourself to start early conciliation. That way you’ll get the deadline extended.
Before you start early conciliation
If you don’t know how much your case is worth or how strong it is, you should get advice - for example from your nearest Citizens Advice.
Make sure you have any relevant documents and dates. This could include your contract of employment, the date of the thing you’re complaining about and any emails you’ve exchanged with your employer about it. If you can, make a note of what’s happened in date order.
Starting early conciliation
The easiest way to apply for early conciliation is to fill in the early conciliation notification form on the Acas website. The only details you have to give are your and your employer’s name and address. You don’t need to say what your dispute is about.
Make sure you put your employer’s correct legal name. If they have ‘ltd’ or ‘Limited’ at the end of their name, they’ll be a company and you can check the Companies House information on GOV.UK. You can also check your payslips, any letters or emails you’ve had from them, their website or ask colleagues.
If your claim is against more than one person or company, add their names too. If your employer has been taken over by another company, you might have a claim against either or both companies.
If you’ve got a discrimination claim, it can be against your employer and whoever discriminated against you.
It’s important to get the names right. If you go on to make a claim, the tribunal will reject it if the names on the tribunal claim form and the early conciliation certificate don’t match.
Once you’ve submitted the early conciliation notification form, you’ll get an automated email acknowledgement. Make sure you keep it in case you need to prove when you contacted Acas.
You can call Acas if you don’t want to fill in an online form.
Acas early conciliation team
Telephone: 0300 123 1122
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
Calls cost 12p a minute from a landline, and from 3p to 45p a minute from a mobile.
Make sure you keep a note of the date you called and the name of the person you spoke to. They’ll fill in the form for you over the phone.
What happens during early conciliation
You’ll be given a conciliation officer who will work with you to resolve your case.
The conciliation officer will contact you to explain the early conciliation process.
They’ll check the information you’ve given on your form, ask you more about your problem and if you want to try to settle your dispute. If you do, Acas will contact your employer to start the process of trying to reach a settlement.
The conciliation officer is impartial. Their aim is to try to resolve the problem and avoid a tribunal claim. They might describe the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case to the other and say if your expectations about compensation are realistic. They’ll pass on any offer your employer makes.
They won't offer you advice on how to win your claim if you can’t reach a settlement or tell you if they think you have a claim that you haven't identified yourself or if there’s a better way to argue your case.
If you don’t want to try to settle your dispute, the conciliation officer will send you the early conciliation certificate. You can then make an employment tribunal claim.
They’ll also send you the certificate if they can’t get in touch with you or your employer after several attempts.
Considering an offer to settle
Your employer might offer you a ‘settlement’. This will usually include money to be paid to you by a certain date. If you decide to take it, you’ll end the conciliation process and won’t be able to go to an employment tribunal.
When you’re considering your employer’s offer, you should think about things like:
- how strong your case is
- how far off their offer is from what you could get
- if you want to get your job back or keep your job with an agreement that your employer will make changes in your workplace
- what else you could do if you don’t accept the offer
- if the stress of making a tribunal claim is worth it because of what you could get if you win
If the offer is reasonable, it’s probably worth accepting it.
If you don’t think it’s reasonable, you could ask them to increase it, or decline the offer and go to a tribunal.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help deciding whether to accept your employer’s offer.
If you can’t reach an agreement
You’ll get your early conciliation certificate. It’s best to ask for it to be sent to you by email so there’s no doubt as to when you received it. You should check your certificate has:
- your and your employer’s correct names and addresses
- the date you first contacted Acas
- a unique reference number - you’ll put this on your tribunal claim form
- the date Acas sent the certificate
- a statement saying how the certificate was sent to you - like by post or email
If any of these things are missing or incorrect, contact your Acas conciliation officer.
If you reached an agreement
The Acas conciliation officer will write up what you agree on a form called a COT3.
If you’re not sure it’s right for you, get advice before you agree to a COT3 agreement. Once you and your employer say you agree to it, you’ll have to keep to it - even if you haven’t signed it yet.
If you agree to the sum you’re being offered but haven’t had time to discuss all the other terms in the agreement, tell Acas that you’re not agreeing to a binding agreement until all the other terms have been agreed - for example, if you haven’t yet agreed on the wording of your reference.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need advice on a COT3 agreement.
If you want to go to a tribunal
You’ll need to calculate the deadline for making the claim.
Because you’ve been through early conciliation, you’ll have given yourself more time to make a tribunal claim. You’ll have at least 1 month after the end of early conciliation to make your claim, but you may have more.
It’s important to make sure you work out what the new deadline is so that you don’t miss it.
To work out the new deadline for making your claim, the first thing you should do is work out your original deadline. For most claims, this will be 3 months minus 1 day from the date of the thing you’re complaining about. If your claim is for statutory redundancy pay or equal pay, it’s 6 months minus 1 day.
Then you need:
- the date on which you contacted Acas to start early conciliation
- the date on which you received the early conciliation certificate
If your original deadline for making a tribunal claim is more than 1 month away when you get the certificate, count the number of days from the day after you contacted Acas up to and including the day you received your certificate. Add that number to the original deadline, starting the day after the original deadline.
For example, you get your early conciliation certificate on 1 February and your original deadline is 3 March - more than 1 month away. If early conciliation takes 11 days, you have to get your tribunal claim in by midnight on 14 March.
If the original deadline has passed or is 1 month or less away when you get the certificate, add 1 month to the date when you receive your early conciliation certificate. That’s your new deadline.
For example, your original deadline is 6 October. You receive your early conciliation certificate on 17 September. You must get your tribunal claim in by midnight on 17 October.
Find out more about making a claim to an employment tribunal.