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Acas conciliation after the fixed period has ended

Thursday 03 April 2008

Up to October 2004, Acas had a duty to offer conciliation in nearly all claims made to an employment tribunal until all matters of liability and remedy had been determined.

The Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regs 2004 introduced provisions which in most cases restricted the Acas duty to conciliate to a fixed period of seven or thirteen weeks. After that period was over, Acas could still exercise a statutory power to conciliate; but until recently we have used that power sparingly because the clear intention of Parliament was that conciliation outwith the prescribed periods should only be made available in exceptional circumstances.

In the recent Review Better Dispute Resolution, Michael Gibbonsfound that fixed conciliation periods had not led to more or earlier resolution of disputes about individual employment rights, and he proposed that these restrictions should be removed. The public consultation that followed publication of the Gibbons report is understood to have revealed almost universal support for that proposal. The Government has accordingly proposed the abolition of such restrictions in the current Employment Bill, which is expected to take effect from April 2009.

In the meantime, the Acas Council has decided that in all cases live at April 1st 2008 and those received by Acas on or after that date, Acas conciliators will be able to exercise the power to conciliate at any time between the end of any designated fixed period and the point at which a Tribunal has determined all matters of liability and remedy. As a result, conciliation will proceed after the end of any fixed period where a party requests it or, alternatively, where the Acas conciliator considers that there is a reasonable prospect that it may assist in resolving the case without the need for determination by the Tribunal.