Methodology article

Method changes to early conciliation and employment tribunal data for England, Scotland and Wales: 2020 to 2021

Published

Introduction

Acas has changed its case management system (CMS) to update the way early conciliation and employment tribunal cases are counted and recorded. Numbers are no longer directly comparable to the previous case reporting method but they more accurately reflect the number of cases in our system.  

1. Main changes

  • We no longer present cases as net and gross but as:
    • individual
    • group
    • cases within groups. 
  • We are better able to identify and remove duplicate cases due to an upgrade to our CMS so duplicate case volumes will be lower and reporting will be more accurate. 
  • Numbers can no longer be directly compared to early conciliation tatistiscs published before 2020.
  • Numbers cannot be directly compared to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) tribunal statistics.

2. Overview

When an employee wants to make a claim against their employer at an employment tribunal, they must usually notify Acas first. Acas offers early conciliation to try to reach an agreement between the employee and employer and avoid the employee making a claim to an employment tribunal.

In some circumstances, the employer may approach Acas to help resolve a potential dispute. This can also be handled using early conciliation.

If the case is not resolved by early conciliation and the claimant still wants to go ahead, they submit an ET1 form to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

We have not published this series since December 2018 because we then introduced a new case management system (CMS) which changed the classification of EC notifications and ET cases. This has made these data not directly comparable to previous Acas EC and ET statistical releases. The way we count cases is also different to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) so our tribunal statistics should not be directly compared to theirs. 

This methodology article describes these changes and considers: 

  •  the impact of this change on case numbers compared with statistics published up until December 2018 
  •  how these statistics align with HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) tribunal statistics

3. Changes to recording cases

Since we last published these statistics in December 2018, we've introduced a new case management system (CMS) and made 2 main changes to how we record early conciliation and employment tribunal cases.  

3. 1. Duplicate cases 

From the launch of early conciliation in 2014 until December 2020, if a claimant submitted an EC notification with a company name that did not match the proper legal company name, this could result in a case being rejected.

For this reason, claimants would sometimes submit multiple notifications with varying names of the company to ensure that the correct name was submitted. Acas would need to remove the duplicates with the wrong company name from the system, after identifying the claim with the proper legal name.

After a change to the CMS, conciliators can now more easily identify these duplicate cases and remove them more efficiently. In December 2020, there was also a change to regulations which allows the company name to be altered to the correct legal name without claimants needing to submit multiple EC notifications.

3.2. Grouping of cases 

The new CMS has also changed the way that we identify batches of related cases. We used to only collect cases into 'group cases' (previously called 'multiples') based on these criteria: 

  • they are submitted on the same date 
  • they are represented by the same person 
  • they relate to the same dispute 
  • they are against the same respondent 

However, the new system also allows us to identify relationships between related cases where only some of these requirements are met.  We can now identify batches of cases regardless of when they were submitted or how they are represented.  

This has allowed us to link cases more effectively. 

4. Changes to case numbers

4.1 Early conciliation notifications 

The changes will affect EC case numbers in 2 ways so the figures published in this new series of bulletins cannot be directly compared to earlier publications on this topic.

Firstly, because there is better identification and removal of duplicate cases in the new CMS, EC numbers are slightly lower than before. This change in numbers will be small but will reflect an improvement in data quality as it will more accurately reflect case numbers in our system.

Secondly, group case numbers will be different from previous publications at the EC stage because it’s easier to identify groups in the system. This grouping of notifications, as well as reporting individual case numbers, is important because it more accurately reflects the actual caseload in our systems in terms of workload, performance and volumes of cases.

Workload

Several cases with 1 representative require far fewer conversations to deal with the case than the same number of cases with different representatives.

Performance

Settlement of 5 cases that are grouped together is not the same as settling 5 individual cases. Similarly, where cases are grouped, conciliators should not be penalised for having many unresolved cases if they are all linked as one group.

Volumes reporting

If a person has chosen to submit several notifications, this should only be counted as 1 notification to reflect the true amount of cases in our system and the grouping of these is important in identifying this.  

4.2 Employment tribunal cases 

These changes to the CMS will have little impact on the employment tribunal (ET) case numbers because the rules around naming of parties are different at employment tribunal.  

ET cases are linked to an EC certificate which is produced as the case moves from EC into post-ET1 conciliation. The company name on the ET1 form does not need to be as precise because the case will be linked to an EC certificate with the company's correct legal name on it.
 
When grouping cases, ET cases are grouped differently and are called 'multiples', not 'groups'. When a batch of ET1s have a claimant-side representative in common, Acas calls this '1 multiple case', irrespective of the size of batch or the dates of submission.

However, if there is no representative we do not group cases in this way even if they all relate to the same dispute. This process is different to how we group EC notifications so multiples at the ET stage cannot be directly compared to groups at the EC stage. Data on these ET multiples will be included in future publications.  

5. Alignment with HM Courts & Tribunals Service tribunal statistics

Receipts  

Acas counts ET1 receipts using the date we receive them and when the record is first input into the CMS. This is usually later than the submission date, sometimes by a number of weeks. So the ET1 receipts in a particular month at Acas can include some cases from previous months and exclude some from the current month. 
 
Another issue arises when taking account of disputes with multiple parties. Acas groups cases into multiples when a batch of ET1s have a claimant-side representative in common but if there is no representative, Acas does not group cases in this way even if they all relate to the same dispute.  
 
HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), on the other hand, may, for practical reasons, treat a large dispute as several smaller batches despite having a common representative. Or they may batch together multiple claimants in the same dispute even though they have no formal representation in common. 
 
Another discrepancy involves large-volume claims (such as equal pay) which are often too large in volume to be input onto the Acas system and are handled administratively, although these cases appear in full in the HMCTS count. 
 
Occasionally, for legal reasons aimed at preserving timelines, claimants resubmit claims repeatedly (usually every 3 months) which HMCTS counts again, but not Acas, who is likely to count them only at the first submission. 
 
In addition, a small number of claims are not open to Acas conciliation and are therefore not counted in Acas totals.  

Outcomes or disposals  

The date of outcome (or ‘disposal’) of ET1 cases differ between Acas and HMCTS due to unavoidable lags in recording and occasional omissions. 
 
Outcomes reached through Acas conciliation may not be recorded straight away by the courts and likewise court disposals are not always received and recorded by Acas on the date they were reached. In some cases, Acas does not receive final confirmation of the outcome of an expected hearing and there can be some delay in obtaining this information. For a small number of cases, we cannot get this information and we decide to close a case as ‘heard’ on the Acas system - sometimes a number of weeks after the expected date of hearing.  
 
Inevitably, during periods when a backlog of cases is building up, the volume of receipts logged exceeds the volume of outcomes and, when working through a backlog, the reverse is true which can also lead to discrepancies between Acas and other figures. 

6. Future developments

There are 2 planned additions to this series in the near future. 

1. Geographical breakdown

Cases are submitted with the postcode of the site where the employee has worked. This postcode data can be used to provide an overview of where in England, Scotland and Wales cases are arising and will allow us to identify case hotspots. 

2. Include employment tribunal multiples as well as individual case numbers

There is a current data quality issue with the production of the employment tribunal multiple figures so we have not reported these numbers in this statistical release to avoid any inaccuracies.