As we all try to assess the continuing impact of the Employment Tribunal fee regime – see the Hard Labour Blog for some excellent analysis of that – Acas have published the latest figures on their early conciliation scheme.
Acas have always offered conciliation in Employment Tribunal cases and a very good service it is too. However since May this year, potential claimants have been forced to contact Acas before even initiating a claim. Attempts at conciliation are then made which lead either to a binding settlement (called a COT3) or to the potential claimant being given a certificate which allows him or her to take the claim on to an Employment Tribunal.
Acas is doing its best to sound pleased by the latest figures which show them being contacted just over 37,000 times in the first six months of the scheme being operational. Acas notes that very few parties refuse to participate in the process, but then report that in between April and June just 18% of the contacts made result in a COT3 settlement. In other words, in the first three months of the scheme (we aren’t given the six month figure), early conciliation has removed just 3046 claims from the system.
I’m not too surprised by that. If I were an employer I would be unlikely to settle a case without seeing the claim put in writing so that I can properly assess the likely outcome and then seeing if the employee is able or keen enough to pursue it by paying the ET fee.
A majority of claims do not proceed
What is particularly interesting about these figures is that Acas is reporting what proportion of the contacts made between April and June this year went on to become Employment Tribunal claims by the end of October. A total of 4,198 claims went on to the Tribunal – 28 per cent of the total contacts made. However, 9,918 of the cases did not progress to a Tribunal claim. That is 58 per cent of the total claims notified in that period.
That is not a healthy figure. It suggests that a clear majority of those who contact Acas because they think they have a claim against their employer that is worth pursuing do not, in the end, pursue it.
Now it may be that those cases were doomed to fail in any event. Perhaps after discussing the case with Acas or hearing the employer’s response to their claim, those individuals realised that they were going to lose in the Tribunal and decided not to proceed. If that is what is happening then that is a good thing. But if that really is the explanation then we will inevitably see a marked increase in the success rate of the claims that are brought before the Tribunal. If the weak cases are being weeded out by early conciliation then it follows that it is the stronger cases that remain.
I very much doubt that future ET statistics will show that happening. To believe that the claims that are not progressing to Tribunal are mainly weak cases that should never have been brought in the first place you have to really want that to be true. Common sense tells us that the dramatic fall in cases that we have seen over the past year cannot possibly be explained merely by employees realising that they don’t have a valid claim. The fee regime is protecting employers who behave unfairly, discriminate against employees, or who fail to pay them what they are owed.
Our employment law system is broken – and these new figures from Acas support that view.
NB: first version of this post referred to 3046 COT3 settlements in the first six months of the scheme when the figure only refers to the first quarter. Thanks to Richard Dunstan (Wonkypolicywonk) for spotting the error.