Guidance on the Acas conciliation service
Acas conciliation explained
Acas is a publicly funded independent organisation. Our job is to promote good employment relations.
As part of that job we have a legal duty to offer conciliation in most cases when someone has a complaint about their employment rights. We can do this even if no formal complaint has been made to an employment tribunal. Download the Conciliation and tribunals [81kb] note that describes the criteria our conciliators will use to decide whether they can exercise the power to conciliate in cases where no Tribunal Claim has yet been made.
Our role is to help find a solution that both sides find acceptable instead of going to a tribunal hearing. We don't impose solutions, but will try to help you settle your differences on your own terms. This process is known as conciliation.
If you have a disability, please let us know if we need to make any special arrangements for you when dealing with your case. If you need to use an interpreter, we can arrange for communication through Language Line which is a completely confidential and impartial service.
Key features of our conciliation service
- Voluntary - you only take part if you want to and you can stop at any time.
- Free - there is no charge for our service.
- Impartial - we won't take sides or judge who is right or wrong.
- Independent - we are not part of the Employment Tribunal Service. Conciliation does not delay the tribunal process. What you say during conciliation can't be used as evidence against you at a tribunal hearing.
- Confidential - nothing you tell us will be passed on to anyone else unless you agree and nothing said in mediation can be used in any later company procedures or court action.
What are your options?
If someone has a complaint about their employment rights, there are a number of possible options:
Settling the complaint through Acas - we conciliate in most claims about individual employment rights, and the majority are settled (or withdrawn). We can do this even if no complaint has yet been made to a tribunal.
Settling the complaint privately - you can settle the complaint privately in certain circumstances.
Withdrawing the complaint - if someone has made a claim to a tribunal but no longer wishes to continue with it, they should withdraw it by writing to the tribunal. This should be done without delay, as the tribunal may award costs if they think someone has acted unreasonably.
Having the complaint decided by an arbitrator - if someone believes they have been unfairly dismissed, or that they have a complaint under the flexible working regulations, the complaint can be heard by an independent arbitrator appointed by Acas, if that is what both sides want. For more details ask your conciliator.
Having the complaint decided by an employment tribunal - you can get booklets explaining tribunal procedures from the Employment Tribunal Service or from the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres.
Why choose conciliation?
- You can get a clearer idea about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and ways of resolving it.
- You can avoid the time, expense, risk and stress of going to a hearing.
- Any settlement will be on terms agreed by you, not imposed by a tribunal.
- Everything can be kept confidential - tribunal hearings are public.
- The settlement can include things not available at tribunals (for example, a reference).
When can we get involved?
We can get involved as soon as someone has a complaint about their employment rights, even if they haven't yet complained to an employment tribunal. Either party may request assistance by contacting the Acas Helpline on 08457 474747.
If someone makes a complaint to an employment tribunal, the tribunal copies the papers to us, so that we can contact both sides to offer conciliation. If you are involved in a tribunal case, you can contact your conciliator by telephoning the number given in the introductory letter from Acas.
Introduction of the Early conciliation bill
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Makes changes to the employment tribunal process, including providing for prospective claimants to contact Acas before they can begin certain types of employment tribunal proceedings.
This is so that parties can be offered conciliation to attempt to resolve their dispute outside the tribunal system, and introduces a series of reforms to streamline the existing system and encourage employer compliance.
It will include a new discretionary power for an employment tribunal to impose a financial penalty on an employer found to have breached an individual's rights in order to encourage greater compliance with employment obligations.
Further information on the progress of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is available from UK Parliament - Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 2012-13.
What will the conciliator do?
In order to help you reach a settlement, the conciliator will talk through the issues with both sides to see if a solution can be found.
Where appropriate, the conciliator will also:
- explain the conciliation process
- explain the way tribunals operate, and what they will take into account in deciding the case
- discuss the options open to you, including arbitration where 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 will not:
- make a judgement on the case, or the likely outcome of a hearing
- advise you whether to accept any proposals for settlement or not
- act as your representative, take sides, or help you prepare your case.
What happens if I settle the complaint through Acas?
If you settle the complaint through Acas, the agreement will be legally binding. Although agreements do not have to be in writing to be legally binding, the terms of the agreement will be recorded on an Acas form to be signed by both sides as proof of the agreement.
Acas brokered settlements in 'fast track' cases are restricted to the matter(s) set out in the original tribunal claim.
If a complaint has been made to a tribunal, we will notify the tribunal office that settlement has been agreed and they will close the case.
What happens if we can't reach agreement?
If you can't reach agreement on a tribunal complaint, and the complaint is not withdrawn, it will be decided by a tribunal. If the claim is of unfair dismissal, or is under the flexible working regulations, it can be decided by an arbitrator if both sides prefer.
What if I have a representative?
If you appoint a representative to act for you, we will conciliate through them, and will not deal with you direct. Your representative may agree a settlement on your behalf. As such a settlement would be legally binding, it is important to ensure that your representative fully understands your requirements.
Will talking to Acas affect the tribunal process?
No. It is important to comply with all instructions from the tribunal as they will continue to process the case while conciliation is taking place, and will list the case for a hearing unless they hear it has been settled or withdrawn. Conciliation is completely separate from the tribunal process.
Where can I get more advice?
- The Acas Helpline (08457 47 47 47) can give information and advice about employment rights, but is not able to assist with preparing or presenting a claim to the tribunal.
- Citizens Advice Bureaux, solicitors and Law Centres can give help and advice on all matters concerned with employment rights.
- Trade Unions and employers' associations may be able to give assistance to their members.
- Equality Direct can give employers free advice and information on equality legislation and good practice.
The service covers England at present. Tel: 08456 00 34 44
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) can give free help and advice on discrimination based on sex, race, or disability as well as issues involving equal pay.
Details of your nearest office can be obtained on the EHRC website contact page.
- You can call the Pay & Work Rights Helpline for free advice and to report abuses about the National Minimum Wage, the Agricultural Minimum Wage, Employment Agencies, Working Time limits, and working for a Gangmaster. The telephone number is 0800 917 2368, or textphone 0800 121 4042 or visit the GOV.UK - Pay and work rights helpline.
- The Employment Tribunals Public Enquiry Line (phone 0845 795 9775 / minicom 0845 757 3722) can provide information about tribunal publications and explain how the tribunal system works. They cannot give legal advice. See the website HM Courts & Tribunal Service - Employment Tribunal guidance which contains useful information for employers and employees.
From a two-hour session on the key points of new legislation or employing people to courses, specially designed for people in your organisation, we offer training to suit you. There may be other providers of such services in addition to Acas. Visit our Training and Business Solutions page to see what is coming up in your area or what tailored services are available.
Data Protection Act 1998
If you have a complaint about an employment right or are responding to one, Acas will put some of the information you give us on to a computer. This helps us to monitor progress and produce statistics. Information may be passed to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to assist research into the use and effectiveness of Acas.
We do our best to provide a high standard of service at all times but if you are not satisfied with the service you have received, you should write to the Director of the Acas office dealing with your case. Contact information regarding the main Acas offices can be found on our page Regional offices and national teams.
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