The requirement for early conciliation by Acas is intended to increase the numbers of employment disputes that are settled without recourse to an employment tribunal, in order to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the employment tribunal process.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill introduces this new requirement, but the details of how it will work in practice will be set out in separate regulations: the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013. A draft of these Regulations is set out in the new consultation.
Currently, Acas only has a duty to conciliate in a dispute once a claim has been issued at an employment tribunal, although it already has a discretionary power to conciliate in respect of a dispute prior to the point at which proceedings are issued.
Once this new legislation is in force (potentially from April 2013, but the date is not yet confirmed), it will be compulsory for potential claimants to submit their dispute to Acas. There will follow a period of one month, during which the possibility of settlement can be explored and the time limit for presenting a claim to the tribunal will be suspended. This period can be extended by a further two weeks if it appears that there is a reasonable prospect of achieving settlement. However, claimants (and prospective respondents) will not be obliged to consider early conciliation and will be able to proceed with their claim if they decline the offer of conciliation.
The consultation seeks views on how the conciliation will work in practice, including the form to be used by prospective claimants, the proposed conciliation process, what types of claim should be exempt and whether there should be a limit on the number of attempts or time taken by Acas to contact the parties.
A copy of the consultation paper is available here. The consultation closes on 15 February 2013.