The Ombudsman Omnishambles continues… Even on Conflict Resolution Day…

Press release

Today (20th October)  is Conflict Resolution Day. Created in 2005 by the Association for Conflict Resolution1. It is now an annual celebration aimed at increasing awareness of the various peaceful, non-violent methods of dispute resolution (ADR) available to traders and consumers.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! recommends ADR to consumers as a cost effective (usually free to consumer) and speedier process than going to court. She expresses concern over the current landscape though saying that many people don’t know about ADR. “Frequently I hear from people who are at the end of their tether with traders and although may be aware of an ombudsman for regulated sectors such as Finance, Energy and Telecoms they are less aware of other sectors such as property, vehicles and furniture.”

For example, The Furniture Ombudsman now incorporating The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman was set up by the Office of Fair Trading and has 25 years of experience in the retail sector dealing with complaints around furniture, home improvement and general retail goods. The independent, thorough investigation process frequently involving expert reports ensures a fair resolution for both parties, that consumers can trust. Kevin Grix, CEO of The Furniture Ombudsman and The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman advises consumers to become more aware of ombudsman schemes and protect themselves more form the outset. “Before you shop, make sure your trader of choice offers ADR and if you find yourself in a dispute, you can ensure you contact the right ADR scheme for the trader you have a contract with.“

Ombudsmen use adjudication, which is usually free to the consumer, binding on the trader but not on the consumer should s/he not agree and want to take the matter to court. However, lesser known but an alternative to Ombudsmen is mediation which puts the parties within a dispute in control of the outcome, taking into account wishes and needs not just legal entitlement. Jo Holland, a mediator consultant with 10 years’ experience finds that people often want to be heard, say their piece or just hear an apology and says “Consumers and businesses need choice and access to affordable and speedy dispute resolution. Mediation provides imaginative, practical and financial outcomes without the need to go to Court”

However, an investigative report Ombudsman Omnishambles: Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK2 written by Dewdney and Marcus Williamson identified a number of issues regarding the certification and ongoing monitoring of ADR providers. The organisations responsible for appointing and overseeing the ombudsmen appear to be taking a “light touch” approach to the new privatised ombudsman sector.

Among the findings of the report:

* The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) does not carry out basic “fit and proper” person tests before approving ombudsmen, their staff and contractors.

* One ombudsman is breaching Ombudsman Association rules on independence, openness & transparency. In particular, the company is running an “accredited retailer” programme in parallel with having the ombudsman role confusing consumers.

The use of ADR has the potential to offer consumers effective means of redress and the expansion into other sectors is welcomed but key issues must be resolved before bringing the whole sector into disrepute and lose confidence of consumers.

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How not to get fobbed off by a garage (and what to do if you have been!)


Don’t get fobbed off by the garage
1) Agree a price for the work with the garage ideally in writing so it can be used later if there is a problem. This should be a quote not an estimate

2) Ask exactly what work will be covered including service and any parts and get this in writing

3) Ensure that the garage knows to contact you if it feels that additional work needs to be done and this should also be in writing. You could agree an amount for small matters without having to call but I prefer the everything agreed in writing approach! Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively

4) If it is too late and you haven’t done this then s/he should get two estimates from other garages as evidence and start the process below. If forced to pay then you should state in writing “payment under protest”

And if things do go wrong:
1) The Consumer Rights Act 2015 from October 1st last year covers vehicle repairs and servicing. So if the consumer believes that the service has not been undertaken with reasonable skill and care or has taken an unreasonable length of time (or longer than the agreed time) the consumer can request a refund/part refund or insist that the job is undertaken properly.

2) If the vehicle doesn’t work as it should after a repair some days after and this is due to poor work that the consumer can also claim.

3) If the garage refuses to provide redress by either giving a refund or redoing the job the consumer can go to arbitration through the trade association if the garage is a member.

4) You are also entitled to out of pocket expenses if you have had to use different transport whilst the job is redone but you must keep this to a minimum.

5) If your vehicle gets damaged at the garage the garage is responsible. The garage must pay to put things right under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (Consumer Rights Act 2015 from the 1st October) unless it can prove that it was not responsible. If the garage says it is not responsible for vehicles left in its possession it is in breach of the Unfair Terms in Contracts Regulations 1999 (Consumer Rights Act 2015 after 1st October)

6) You can also write to the CEO of the garage/chain by getting the contact details from

7) Be polite, assertive and quote your legal rights. Complain in writing wherever possible as this is clear evidence in court should you need it. Give a time for when a response is expected and what will happen if a satisfactory response is not received (e.g. contact Trading Standards, the Trading Association, go through the Small Claims Court etc.)

8) If all that fails you can go to the Small Claims Court.

Preventing issues
Motor Codes is the government-backed, self-regulatory body for the motor industry. Its voluntary membership of thousands of garages is committed to maintaining high standards covering new cars, the administration of new car warranties and car service and repair. Search their database for members who sign up to a code of practice and if things do go wrong will partake in alternative alternative dispute resolution.

How to be smart when using a garage

When buying a car
Car buyers alert: how not to get fobbed off

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BA flies in the face of consumer law and decency

Customers who bought tickets for the economy cabin on short-haul and domestic flights from Heathrow and Gatwick flying from January 11, 2017, and from London City and London Stansted by summer 2017 are being stung and will find that food and drinks are no longer free! Has it become a no frills airline? On the 29th September this year BA announced to great fanfare that it had partnered with Marks and Spencer. The new British Airways menu, which will replace the airline’s current complimentary snacks, includes items from the M&S Food on the Move selection. Well that’s nice isn’t it? Well maybe spending a few quid might be better than the free alcoholic drink and a few free nibbles in the future but what about those people who bought their tickets before the 29th September? They lose out, that’s what.

You may think that customers only lost the cost of a drink and a few nuts. But stop, don’t flee yet. How many tickets do you think were purchased before the 29th September this year for flights after the 11th January 2017? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Ok, so just how much have they actually saved? That’s the principle after all. Couple of pounds on every flight, you do the math, it’s thousands and thousands of pounds right?

“Oh” I hear you cry “But BA will refund the cost of the “free” drink and nibbles so they won’t make that money”. Really? It wouldn’t appear so. Those people who have already booked flights received an email starting with “Thank you for booking your flight with British Airways. We’re writing to let you know about some key changes that are taking place to our on-board catering.” The press release followed. There is no mention at all of compensation, partial refund or how to make a complaint. They may not refuse any calls of this nature but why the lack of transparency or assistance for customers. There’s nothing on their website either!

I asked the BA Press Office for a response and so far have not received one. I tweeted BA and they said all flights after 11th Jan will have new catering menu. “Breach of contract” says I and here is their stance on that:


@ComplainingCow Hi Helen, sorry for the delay in replying. We’ve given our customers a four month notice period of the changes… most short-haul customers do not book this far in advance, but any customers who hold bookings from January 11th 2/3… and are unhappy are welcome to contact us to discuss their booking.

So, there you go. BA will discuss your bookings but will not actively point out that they have broken the terms and conditions of contracts.

Right, well that’s it. It’s the principle of the thing. It doesn’t matter if you think it is only a few quid or you are just a bit miffed or even if you don’t care. BA appears to be making money from this. Instead of doing it properly and offering vouchers/AVIOS points or partial refunds to affected customers it would appear that it has simply informed them that the terms and conditions have changed and hoped that the majority of people won’t bother complaining. They would not be out of pocket and the PR would have been much better showing them to be doing the “right thing”.

So, we can’t catch all the customers affected and of those we catch we can’t get them all to complain. But we can have a damn good try at knocking the BA profits and making sure customers actually get what is legally due. How? Like this:

  • Email the CEO. You can find his address at
  • Provide details of when you bought the tickets and the booking reference numbers
  • Tell him that BA is in breach of contract for breaking the terms and conditions of the contract you have.
  • Say that you are aware that the breach falls under The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, Regulation EC 1008/2008 – Article 23 Transparent pricing, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and Consumer Rights Act 2015 (including Part 2 Unfair Terms).
  • State that you are entitled to a full refund on the ticket or you will accept a partial refund for the value of the “free” drink and food that formed part of the contract. (Both ways!)
  • Inform him that should you not receive a satisfactory response you will not hesitate in taking the matter further such as the Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme.
  • Optional – say that you are disgusted with the way BA has handled this matter and will be spreading awareness of people’s legal rights via social media. (And then of course do so, the more people we empower to fight for their rights the better so do your bit!)

Don’t be fobbed off by any  requests to call an 0844 number either as these are no longer permitted for after-sales enquiries and issues, Regulation 41 of  aforementioned Consumer Contracts (Information Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. Refuse to ‘phone anyway because you want your answer in writing should you need the evidence! A call won’t give you that. Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively.

If you bought your ticket(s) through a travel agent you will need to contact them as if you paid the travel agent directly the contract is with them.

Beat BA at their own game and don’t let these big businesses get away with it. Call them out on it and ensure you get your legal redress whilst you are about it.

If you want to do more about asserting your legal rights and need some help. See the Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively and the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results packed full of information, guidance, advice, consumer law and template letters.

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Full steam ahead to a better consumer deal for Rail passengers

Press release

It’s good news for rail passengers today, as their rights are boosted by the Consumer Rights Act, giving a much better deal on compensation for delays, cancellations and overcrowding.

When the Consumer Rights Act 2015 was implemented on 1st October last year, Sea, Rail and Air were made exempt from its conditions.

In April last year the Government back-stepped and decided that from October 1st 2016 that Ferries and Airlines would also be included but had delayed Rail until 2017. However, following the Which? campaign to “Make Rail Refunds Easier”, Rail will now be covered from the 1st October 2016.

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Key new rights for rail travel

  • Passengers are entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days.
  • Compensation must be issued by the same method the passenger paid with, rather than with vouchers that some train companies currently use.
  • Passengers are entitled to payment for additional consequential losses, such as missed connections.
  • Passengers can claim for any length of delay. If you suffer repeated delays of less than half an hour or overcrowding due to an unexpected lack of carriages, you might get money back if you take your case to court. Currently, no compensation is offered.
  • Where a service has not been provided with reasonable skill and care, passengers will now have a right to a refund of up to the full ticket price.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer rights blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!  says that it will be interesting to see how the companies deal with the changes. “Many of us might say that the companies will try and get out of compensating customers and hope that people won’t know their new legal rights! We need to ensure that people are aware of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and that they use it when they receive poor service and/or delays.”

Passengers should quote the Act, describe the journey times and length of delay and contact the relevant train company. Dewdney will be watching closely to see if train companies compensate for overcrowding. She believes that the companies will not compensate and is watching out for the first person to take legal action through the Small Claims Court.

Tips on complaining effectively

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! Advice, guidance, information, stories, templates and your rights!

Keep up to date with latest consumer news  sign up to the newsletter (only send a few a year with no rhyme or reason as to when!)

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International Day of Older Persons: Treat older customers properly & fairly, says consumer campaigner The Complaining Cow

Press Release

The 1st October 2016 is the International Day of Older Persons. Older persons can be vulnerable to a number of things including elder abuse, ageism, and exploitation. We hear often of the stories of carers abusing older people and employers not treating older people equally. But frequently older persons are more vulnerable to being fobbed off by big companies when it comes to consumer rights such as being mis-sold or not gaining redress when they are entitled.

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Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer rights blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! says that she hears many stories about big companies not ensuring older people their consumer rights and/or providing really poor service. She cites the example of her own 81-year-old aunt, who last Winter was left 11 days without heating (one engineer even told her “Well at least you save on the bills”). Once Dewdney was told and got involved the matter was resolved within the day and her aunt received redress. However, others who don’t know how to complain are at risk of being exploited, not receiving the service to which they are entitled or not receiving the full refund.

Dewdney provides 5 of the top consumer rights that people can use to help their older friends and relatives this Winter:

  • Ofgem has Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards in place. They require suppliers and any organisations that represent them, such as brokers or third party intermediaries, to ensure that each domestic customer is treated fairly. When there is poor service and/or a delay look these up and quote from them!
  • Follow the company’s complaints process and if necessary contact the CEO (See for contact details of all CEOs) if the matter is serious and/or you can’t get a satisfactory response. Outline clearly the issues and what you will do if you do not receive an acceptable reply, such as using the relevant Ombudsman.
  • The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that all goods must be of satisfactory quality, be fit for purpose, last a reasonable length of time and match the description. Consumers are entitled to a full refund within 30 days of purchase and a repair or replacement after this time. Services must be carried out with reasonable skill and care. The company must put the customer back into the financial position in which they were in before the problems arose.
  • Look at switching energy every year. Use the various switch websites and cashback sites to check if you are on the cheapest tariff.

Dewdney says that energy, telecoms and other sectors have to abide by various codes of conduct. These, and all traders and service providers, have to abide by consumer law. However, many companies make it very difficult for people to complain, whether it be due to company ethos, processes or poor training. “The more we can do to help vulnerable people to assert their legal rights and not be taken advantage of the better.” she declares.

All you need to know to make a complaint about energy will give you more information, advice and stories regarding energy and complaining.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! Advice, guidance, information, stories, templates and your rights!

Keep up to date with latest consumer news  sign up to the newsletter (only send a few a year with no rhyme or reason as to when!)

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