Early conciliation

How early conciliation works

Early conciliation is when Acas talks to both you and the respondent about your dispute. It gives you the chance to come to an agreement without having to go to an employment tribunal.

Time limits

A claim to an employment tribunal must usually be made within 3 months less 1 day. This is known as the 'limitation date'.

For example, if an employee wants to claim for unfair dismissal, they have 3 months less 1 day from the date their employment ended to make the claim.

If it's a claim about redundancy pay or equal pay, the claim must be made within 6 months.

Acas must receive your early conciliation notification before the end of the limitation date.

When we receive your early conciliation notification, the limitation date gets extended so that there's enough time for early conciliation to take place.

Some types of claim do not have to go to (are 'exempt' from) early conciliation. We cannot advise whether your claim is exempt.

Find out about exemptions from early conciliation on legislation.gov.uk.

Stages of early conciliation

  1. When you tell us you intend to make a claim we'll ask if you want early conciliation.
  2. If you do, we'll ask for some details about the dispute.
  3. If you do not, we'll give you a certificate so you'll be able to go to an employment tribunal.
  4. We'll send you a confirmation email or letter with your reference number.
  5. We'll review the information you have provided – if we need to check anything or get more information we'll call you.
  6. If you've told us you cannot use a telephone we'll email you.
  7. Once we have all the information we need, we'll assign your case to one of our conciliators.
  8. Your conciliator will speak with you or your representative to understand your dispute and how you want it to be resolved.
  9. If you agree, they'll contact your employer to see if they're willing to take part in talks.
  10. If they are, your conciliator will talk with each of you to see if you can reach an agreement.

Tell your conciliator if you've changed address or do not want it shared with your employer.

If we do not hear back from you, we'll send you the certificate you need to take to an employment tribunal.

If a respondent declines early conciliation

We'll give you a certificate with a number on it. This is the number you need for form ET1, which you use if you decide you still want to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

What conciliators do

Acas is impartial, which means we're not on either side. We're there to help resolve the dispute without it going to an employment tribunal.

A conciliator will:

  • explain the conciliation process
  • discuss the issues with both sides
  • give an overview of the law
  • discuss how employment tribunals have considered cases similar to yours
  • help both sides explore the strengths and weaknesses of the case
  • discuss possible options without making any recommendations
  • remain independent of the dispute – they will not take sides or tell you what to do 
  • outline the employment tribunal process

If you reach an agreement

Once you and the respondent reach an agreement, we'll write up what you agree in a settlement form called a 'COT3'.

It's important that it's right for you. Once you and the respondent agree to it, you’ll have to keep to it – even if you have not signed it yet. A settlement is legally binding.

We'll send it to both you and the respondent to sign.

You will not be able to take your case to tribunal if the case is settled in early conciliation, even if you've made a tribunal claim. The case will be closed and there will be no hearing.

If you do not reach an agreement

After early conciliation, we'll give you a certificate with a number on it. You need to put the number on employment tribunal form ET1, which you use if you decide to make a claim.

Time limits

You will have a minimum of 1 calendar month from the date of receipt of the certificate to make a claim to the employment tribunal.

In some cases, you might have longer than 1 month to make a claim to the employment tribunal. Working out the exact time limit can be complicated. You might want to get legal advice.

It's your responsibility to make sure you make your claim to the tribunal in time. Only a tribunal can decide whether the claim is in time or not. Acas conciliators cannot decide or advise on this point.

Talks up to and during the tribunal claim

You and the respondent can still talk through Acas up to and during the tribunal, until a judgment is made. This is known as 'conciliation' (rather than 'early conciliation').

Conciliation will not affect the outcome of a tribunal and we will not share anything you discuss with anyone else without your permission.

If early conciliation or conciliation does not resolve your dispute and the tribunal continues, your case will be heard in public and a decision will be made by a judge.

Find out more about what happens at employment tribunals on GOV.UK.

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