The initial figures produced by ACAS in 2014 (following Early Conciliation becoming compulsory) indicated that 18% of claims settled during conciliation, 24% progressed to an Employment Tribunal but 58% neither settled nor progressed to tribunal. The most recent figures (covering the period April to June 2017 prior to the withdrawal of tribunal fees) show that 19% settled, but even fewer progressed to Tribunal - 17% - while 64% neither settled nor progressed.
So why have so many cases fallen by the wayside at the Early Conciliation stage? ACAS published a report this month which explores the behaviours of claimants who neither settle nor proceed to Tribunal. The research used 35 in depth interviews with a broad range of claimants involved in disputes ranging from straight forward unlawful deductions to more complex cases involving dismissals, discrimination and unequal pay.
Most of the claimants had attempted to resolve their disputes internally, either informally or via grievances. Taking the step to Early Conciliation was triggered by a number factors including:-
Perceived poor handling of the dispute by the employer;
The deadline for making an ET claim approaching;
Recommendations from family, friends, lawyers or trade unions;
Losing access to lawyers or trade unions; and
A sense of injustice stemming from unfair treatment by employers
Once EC was triggered, some claimants engaged in it but others did not, usually because either they wanted to achieve a private settlement directly with the employer, or because they wanted to go straight to Tribunal. Of those that did engage in the EC process, the primary reason was to try to achieve settlement.
So what then influenced those who had not achieved settlement to not proceed to Tribunal? Not surprisingly financial factors played a strong role in decision making. That incudes wider legal costs as well as the tribunal fees that were still in place at the time of the research.
The other main reasons for claims not being progressed was the perception of the power of employers or a lack of faith in justice, having a lack of evidence and being discouraged by lawyers, unions and conciliators. The anticipated mental and emotional impact of the tribunal and the claimant's current state of health also impacted.
Potential claimants also cited concerns surrounding longer term career prospects being affected, running out of time to make a claim and concerns over the time and hassle involved in the process as being factors in not proceeding. A small number also reached private settlements with their employers.
The next quarterly statistics showing how many cases proceed to Tribunal following EC will cover the period April to September, so this will include the first few months after fees were abolished and it will be interesting to see how significantly that impacts on the figures presented to date.
ACAS Annual Report
The ACAS Annual Report was also published recently. This document is a measure of the organisations success in meeting its strategic aims of driving sustained organisational effectiveness and productivity and improving the quality of working life across the economy, assisting organisations and individuals to manage conflict and resolve disputes at work, and to shape and inform policy thinking and practice on employment issues contributing to fair, effective and efficient working relationships. According to the report every £1 invested in ACAS brings an economic benefit of £13 to the British economy. Key statistics for the past year include 9/10 collective disputes being helped to settle through ACAS and 55% of tribunal claims being settled by ACAS conciliators. The full report can be found here.