Ombudsman Omnishambles: New report exposes serious failings in ombudsman approval and oversight

A new report, released today by consumer campaigners Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney, exposes serious failings in the processes by which new ombudsmen are approved and overseen.

Since 1 October 2015 a new privatised system of ombudsmen is available for consumer complaints in areas such as retail and aviation. Consumers expect an ombudsman to be independent, open & transparent and to abide by the rules of its trade body.

However, the organisations responsible for appointing and overseeing the ombudsmen appear to be taking a “light touch” approach to the new privatised ombudsman sector.

Lots of people text Ombudsman omnishambles

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 has a convicted criminal as its “Director of Communications”.

* The same ombudsman is not abiding by Ombudsman Association rules on independence or on openness & transparency. In particular, the company is running an “accredited retailer” programme in parallel with having the ombudsman role and refuses to provide a list of the retailers which are its members.

Yet, despite these serious issues, there has been no action taken so far by the CTSI, Ombudsman Association (OA) or Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The report is being submitted to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as part of a current call for evidence which closes on 23 June. The submission and publication of the report coincides with this week’s CTSI conference and includes responses from the CTSI, OA, CAA and Carter-Ruck.

Marcus Williamson, Editor of the consumer information website, says:

“We recommend that the Ombudsman Association, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the Civil Aviation Authority must now take urgent action to examine and resolve the issues outlined in this report, before the ombudsman system is brought into disrepute.“

20/10/2016  The Ombudsman Omnishambles continues… Even on Conflict Resolution Day…

02/11/16 Ongoing Ombudsman Omnishambles

06/07/17 The Retail Ombudsman is no more

The Report

The report “Ombudsman Omnishambles – Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK” is available to download here:

February 2018 New report More Ombudsman Omnishambles 20 months on

What did the EU do for consumer law?

I have been asked a lot what EU law affects consumer law and what would happen to consumer law should we leave the EU on Thursday. Well, in answer to the second question no-one really knows, just like no-one really knows what will happen to anything.  For the former, “Experts” believe that it will take anything from 2 – 10 years to unravel laws.

We accept European Law here because there is an Act of Parliament (European Communities Act 1972) that sets out that we will abide by European Law and give it precedence.

EU legislation is intended to give consumers across the EU equivalent rights. Each member state will use its own piece of law to implement an EU law, regulation or directive as appropriate. So buy a product from France, French law applies giving the same basic rights as UK law although there may be some differences. See the UK European Consumer Centre for more details.

EU provides:

Regulations. These passed by the European Commission and become law immediately across all member states. So that means each country is immediately bound by it, i.e. it has the same effect as an Act of Parliament.

Directives: These are different to Regulations because they aren’t domestic law immediately. They offer a framework with which each member state must use in order to implement domestic law by a certain date – so as to give effect to the purpose of the Directive. So with these the EC introduce a Directive and each member state could apply it slightly differently when turning it in to law.

So what do we have consumer law related and what is likely to happen to them?

The Consumer Rights Directive 2013 

The UK implemented the:

  1. Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012,
  2. Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and
  3. Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading (Amendment) Regulations.

The CRR 2012 limits charges in relation to the payment methods used when buying goods and services. Surcharge must not be more than it costs the business to process that method of payment. The price of a product, whether goods, services or digital content, must be quoted inclusive of any non-optional surcharges.

The CCR 2013 is about ensuring that the consumer is given certain information at the point of sale such as ensuring that there are no hidden charges, understand what goods and services are being provided, receive  the information in a “durable medium”. The Doorstop Selling Regulations 2008 gave you 7 days cooling off period but this was repealed when the CCR 2013 came into force.

The CPUT Regulations were slightly updated to include “misleading and aggressive tactics”. We already had The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which were implemented under the EU Directive 2005/29/EC concerning unfair commercial practices in the internal market and were updated in 2014. Much is also covered by The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Consumer Credit Act 1974
In January 2013 changes were made to this Act following an EU Directive on Additional Assumptions for the Calculation of the Annual Percentage Rate of Charge on Credit Agreements (EC Directive 2011/90/EU0)

The Consumer Protection Act 1987
From an EU Directive this prohibits the manufacture and supply of unsafe goods making the manufacturer or seller of a defective product responsible for any damage it causes. Think tumble dryer fires. The Act also allows local councils to seize unsafe goods and suspend the sale of suspected unsafe goods and prohibits misleading price indications. The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (not as part of an EU directive) broadened requirements on safety requirements.

EU Directive 1999/44/EC
People think this is good cause when you buy goods in a shop or online you have the right to a minimum two year guarantee period at no cost. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 actually gives you more rights.

Roaming Charges
The costs were capped in July 2014 and again from 30th April 2016 (excluding VAT for calls, texts and downloading data).

• Roaming data dropped from around 15p per mb to up to 4p plus the domestic price.
• Outgoing calls dropped from around 15p per minute to up to 4p plus the domestic price
• Incoming calls from around 4p per minute to up to 1p plus the domestic price
• Outgoing texts from around 5p per text to up to 2p plus domestic price
• On 15 June 2017 there will be no extra roaming fee within the EU – it will be the same as domestic price

What might happen to these laws if we leave the EU?
Consumer law has improved over the last couple of decades. These have been put in place due to EU Directives but also improving existing laws not due to the EU. It is very unlikely that the Government would repeal any of these laws as 1) It would be very complicated and time/money expensive to unravel and 2) The Acts are improvements for consumers so there would be no reason to undo them and to choose to do so would cause some uproar!

What of any new Directives?
I don’t think it will make the slightest bit of difference to consumer law whether in or out of the EU! May see companies opt out of the roaming charges cap though!


How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


For more information, tips, consumer law, guidance and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

All you need to know when your phone/energy bill is wrong

It has been in the news a lot recently about Vodafone and their billing mistakes. It moved to a new billing platform and since then there have been masses of reports of serious blunders, such as direct debits incorrectly set up, people being put on the wrong tariff and credit agencies wrongly being told that customers have missed payments. So what if you are one of these customers or indeed if you receive bills of any sort what should you do?

Check your bills
Always check your bills. Check that it is what you think it should be. Then check your bank if you pay by direct debit because there’s always a chance that the company has messed that up! Go back through your statements for months too if you haven’t been checking them.

What to do if you find a problem
Act as soon as you find out. You can ring but you won’t have a record or evidence of what they have said they will do. Recording the call is not a great option because unless they give their permission for you to do this you won’t be able to use it in court should you need to do this. Recording calls and the law. You can use online chat if available. Don’t trust that this will be emailed to you even if they say it will be! Copy and paste the transcript into a document. If you have to ring do so through their free number and follow tips for ringing.

Follow the tips for effective complaining.

Don’t cancel any direct debits. This will confuse the issue and may affect your credit rating.

Taking it further
If you get nowhere with customer services, find the CEO contact details from and write to him or her. Vodafone CEO contact details. You are highly unlikley to get a response directly from him or her but it will be an escalataion as the CEO will have a senior team to deal with complaints. Make sure you add all the dates and evidence of what was agreed prior to writing to him/her.

If this still gets you nowhere then go to the Ombudsman. There is CISAS and the Communication Ombudsman. Your ‘phone provider will be a member of only one of these schemes and you will need to check to see which one. You must ask for a letter of deadlock or wait until 8 weeks has passed since your inital complaint.

Energy bills
Same advice with energy bills. Go to the Energy Ombudsman after following the advice above.

Your rights
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to services that are carried out with reasonable skill and care and therefore if the company messes up your bills this is not reasonable skill and care. The company must put you back into the position you were in before the mistakes arose. So for example, if you incurred additional expense such as having to ring the company repeatedly then you should add this to your claim. (Generally speaking, unless excessive, you aren’t entitled to redress for time taken on the matter).  If your credit rating has been affected the company must also correct this.

If mistakes are made by the company then you can and should argue that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 the company is in breach of contract so therefore if you want you can terminate early without paying the penalty.

Regulatory bodies
Ofcom is the regulatory body for phone providers. It cannot investigate individual complaints. However,  you can inform them of problems and if a significant number of people do this regarding the issue then it will investigate and take action. Ofgem does the same for energy companies.

For more information on how to complain to ‘phone providers and others see Tips and the book and keep up to date with consumer news with the newsletter.



Retailer in administration – your rights

BHS your rights when a company goes into administration


With the news last week of BHS going into administration following close behind Austin Reed, I thought it would be useful to provide details on your rights.


Gift vouchers

  • If the voucher is for any amount over £100 and was paid for by credit card then you have protection from the credit company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
  • It is possible that if you paid through your bank you could get your money back through Cashback. This is a voluntary scheme and you will need to check with your bank.
  • If the company is taken over by another one it does not have to honour the voucher but always worth checking. They may well be of the opinion that if they honour the voucher that you will return and if they don’t you will not go there ever and tell your friends so!
  • If you have bought your vouchers through a third party website it is worth contacting them. They do not legally have to refund you the money but they may as a goodwill gesture.
  • If the company isn’t honouring vouchers contact the administration company as soon as possible. You will be added to the creditors list, along with staff wages, the taxman etc., so it is highly unlikely that you will get your money but you have no chance at all if you don’t register your interest!
  • Keep hold of your vouchers. Even if the company goes into an administration a buyer may be found which may honour the vouchers.

Still selling whilst in administration

  • Your rights remain the same. If an item has become faulty you are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. However the administrators may just add you to the creditors list.
  • You have protection from the credit company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you bought the item on a credit card and the item was more than £100.
  • It is possible that if you paid through your bank you could get your money back through Cashback. This is a voluntary scheme and you will need to check with your bank.
  • The administrators will want to raise as much cash as possible so will continue to sell goods if trader is a retailer. This is where you may find some bargains and if you buy online you should still be able to return within 14 days under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. 
  • Remember though, that if any item you buy becomes faulty you may well not be able to return it if no buyer is found for the retailer!

Half way through a purchase or service

  • If you have ordered a conservatory and it is half built, you might well be stuck. It will be down to the administrators as to whether they will honour the rest of the work or whether you join the creditors.
  • If you have bought an item it may depend on where your purchase is in the system and what the administrators decide to do.
  • See above for claiming from the credit card company or bank. You may also be able to claim for finishing off the work.

Move quickly

  • Soon as you hear a company may be in trouble use your gift vouchers.
  • If you have had that broken item ready to return sitting around waiting to be taken back do it soon as possible.
  • If you need to register as a creditor do it quickly. Remember though that you will be very low down the list and if you do get anything back it will be a percentage of the amount. Some administrators will see giving the majority of people a small return rather than fewer people a large percentage as a fairer way of spreading the money left.