ACAS – a brief explanation

What is ACAS?

ACAS is an abbreviation for the “Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service”. It is a Government body (a ‘QUANGO‘) and its purpose is to improve organisations and working life through the promotion of strong industrial relations practice.

ACAS provides an advisory service to businesses, as well as conciliation, mediation and arbitration services in relation to employment disputes between employers and employees.

What does ACAS do?

Services offered

In respect of employment disputes, ACAS offers the following services:

  1. Conciliation;
  2. Mediation; and
  3. Arbitration


Conciliation is defined as the action of mediating between two disputing peoples or groups. This is ACAS’s primary function – it mediates between employers and employees both ‘pre-action’ (i.e. prior to the Employment Tribunal claim being issued) and during Employment Tribunal litigation.

The organisation’s conciliation function can be broken down into two parts:

  1. ‘Early Conciliation’ (conciliation prior to the Employment Tribunal claim being issued); and
  2. Conciliation during litigation

ACAS Early Conciliation has three main benefits to employees:

  1. It is generally (but not always – there are limited exceptions) a requirement to go through ACAS Early Conciliation in order to bring an Employment Tribunal claim;
  2. ACAS Early Conciliation will extend the time period for issuing your claim; and
  3. Starting ACAS Early Conciliation can be a useful ‘warning short’ across an employer’s bow prior to litigation

As well as the above benefits, ACAS’s services are free to the public and it is a confidential system.

If a case settles (whether prior to Employment Tribunal litigation or during litigation) then ACAS use what is known as a ‘COT3 agreement’ as a settlement agreement to record the terms of settlement.


Mediation is held by a neutral person (a ‘mediator’). The mediator is impartial – this means they do not take sides. They’re there to help both parties find a solution that all the parties agree to. 


When there’s a disagreement (‘dispute’) between an employer and an employee or a group of employees, a third party can make a decision on the dispute to settle it. This is called ‘arbitration’.

How can ACAS be useful?

ACAS can help you try and settle your matter or open up a line of communication to your employer regarding settlement (if things have got so bad that you can’t communicate with them yourself). As above, it is also almost always essential that an employee go through ACAS Early Conciliation in order to allow them to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal; failing to go through ACAS Early Conciliation can mean that your claim is rejected by the Employment Tribunal.

If you agree settlement terms with your employer then ACAS can also provide you with a draft ‘COT3’ settlement agreement.

What can’t ACAS do?

ACAS are, as detailed above, useful but they won’t provide you with legal advice on your matter.

How to contact ACAS

If you want to contact ACAS then you should go to the ACAS website.

If you want to start Early Conciliation then you can do so by filling in this form.

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