By Claire West

Latest statistics show that Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, received just over a third more referrals for Pre Claim Conciliation (PCC) between April and December 2010 than in the whole year from April 2009 to March 2010. Over three quarters of disputes that are appropriately referred for PCC do not go on to become tribunal claims.

Disputes almost always affect morale, reduce productivity and ultimately undermine growth for small businesses. To reduce the time and money businesses spend on conflict, the Government has recently proposed that all potential tribunal claims are submitted to Acas for early conciliation first.

Acas estimates that resolving a claim through its early conciliation service saves a business on average £5,200 when staff time and legal costs are factored in, compared to dealing with a dispute once an employment tribunal claim has been made.

In a survey of users carried out for Acas by an independent research organisation, businesses said they found disputes resolved through Pre Claim Conciliation (PCC) typically occupied less than a day of management time, whereas cases settled after an employment tribunal claim has been made take up on average five days of management time. This increases to nine days for those which reach a tribunal hearing. Similar time savings were evident for employees.

John Taylor, Acas Chief Executive said: "The proposed expansion of our Pre Claim Conciliation service - which has already helped thousands of businesses and individuals to resolve their disputes without becoming involved in long, costly and stressful employment tribunal proceedings - is further proof of its success.

"Small businesses without in-house professional HR support tell us they benefit the most. These businesses are particularly vulnerable and often don't know what to do when things go wrong. Early conciliation aims to resolve the dispute quickly and preserve the working relationship between employer and employee. It also gives the parties control of the terms of any settlement. Resolving a dispute early may enable the employee to keep their job and the employer to avoid an expensive recruitment and re-training exercise."

The latest PCC statistics highlight that:

- By the end of December 2010 almost 20,000 potential employment tribunal claims had been referred for PCC since the service was launched in April 2009;

- Demand for the service continues to rise. Acas dealt with 11,486 potential ET claims between March and December 2010, compared to 8,461 in the whole year from April '09 to March '10; and

- Less than a quarter of disputes that have been appropriately referred for PCC end up becoming tribunal claims.