Rail Ombudsman is finally coming down the tracks – consultation closing soon

Press release

Background
Rail passengers will soon get their long-awaited Rail Ombudsman, an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme for disgruntled railway users across the country. An Ombudsman provides an independent escalation process, beyond the railway company, to make decisions on passenger complaints.

 

 

 

Consultation closing soon
The Office of Rail and Road has said that it will introduce an ADR scheme in the rail sector. As this will require changes to rail companies’ Complaints Handling Procedures (CHPs), it is consulting on these changes. The Rail Delivery Group , (working with others as part of an Ombudsman Task Force, has developed proposals which they envisage will see an ADR scheme for rail passengers introduced on a voluntary basis in early 2018.

The consultation on this important issue closes on the 7 November 2017. Yet there has been no coverage in the media nor any push from Government to ensure the general public see this and are given a chance to respond. Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer expert and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! welcomes the consultation but is dismayed at the lack of coverage. “Nearly every commuter has had reason to complain about at least one train journey in recent years! But at the moment very few even know their rights never mind how to take their complaints further!”

Current situation
In 2013 Transport Focus found that almost nine in 10 of passengers eligible for compensation for delays, did not claim. In 2016 it spoke to over 7000 passengers and found that the number claiming compensation has increased to 35 per cent in 2016. The research shows how few people are claiming what they are owed.

Dewdney says that there are other legal rights for complaints in the rail sector but even fewer people are aware of these than those around delays.

“The rail companies all have a passenger charter which links to the National Rail Network guidelines. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was applied to rail travel from 1st October 2016. You are now entitled to services which must be carried out with reasonable skill and care. If they are not then you should be able to gain redress. Things for which you may gain redress under this Act are:

  • overcrowding
  • not able to use a booked seat
  • claim for consequential losses

If you complain and you think the response is unsatisfactory you can take the matter further. If your journey was outside London then you go through Transport Focus For London and surrounding areas (including those on London Underground or London Overground) contact the London Travel Watch  but decisions made by them are not binding on the rail companies.

Proposed scheme
The proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme would be binding on the rail companies that joined. This means they would be obliged to act upon the ombudsman’s decision.

Marcus Williamson the editor of consumer information website CEOemail.com, who
has been monitoring private ADR schemes since 2014, said “If a Rail Ombudsman is to be effective it must be truly independent and its performance closely monitored by Government. Those running it should have passed a ‘fit and proper person’ test and be fully accountable to the public, as well as to the rail companies.”

Williamson and Dewdney wrote the June 2016 report “Ombudsman Omnishambles” where a number of issues were highlighted regarding the regulation of Ombudsmen. They are concerned that whilst these issues have still not been addressed or resolved by the relevant regulatory bodies, the proposed Rail Ombudsman system could mean that consumers are put at risk again.

What can be done to rectify it?

  • A “Fit and proper person” test, as already required in many business and public sector environments, should be introduced for the trusted “Ombudsman” role and  ADR providers.
  • Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) must implement ongoing monitoring of ADR bodies, rather than rely on an annual review. This should include checking that statements made in the media are true and that the company’s accounts properly reflect the ombudsman’s performance.
  • CTSI, Department for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy (BEIS) or Ombudsman Association (OA) should provide a means by which the public can lodge complaints about ADR providers and develop procedures by which the relevant body can take the necessary action.
  • The rail ADR/ombudsmen schemes must be established appropriately, effectively and properly.
  • It should be compulsory for rail companies to join the ADR/ombudsman scheme.

ENDS

Further reading for information on misleading consumers, business and the failure of the regulatory bodies:

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

http://CEOemail.com/ombudsman-omnishambles.pdf

The Ombudsman Omnishambles continues… Even on Conflict Resolution Day…

Ongoing Ombudsman Omnishambles

The Retail Ombudsman is no more

ORR Response to consultation by Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney

 

 

 

The Ombudsman Omnishambles continues… Even on Conflict Resolution Day…

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.

Lots of people text Ombudsman omnishambles
How are authorities failing in their approval of ombudsmen and ADR providers? Many ways

 

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 from 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.

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 CEOemail.com, 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:

http://CEOemail.com/ombudsman-omnishambles.pdf

 

Consumer champion says “Know your EU rights”

Consumer champion says “Know your EU rights”

As a nation the British aren’t very good at complaining. Fewer than 45% of us know and use our legal rights.[1]

Although there is an increase in using social media to complain and whilst this may be considered complaining, it often doesn’t gain the legal redress that letters or emails can elicit. The main reasons cited by people for not complaining are that it takes too much time and effort and that they are unsure of their legal rights.

The Consumer Rights Act, introduced on the 1st October, consolidated a number of Acts and introduced cover for digital goods, but with so few people currently knowing and using their legal rights the numbers complaining might decrease still further.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, consumer rights blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! touched upon this on Rip Off Britain Live on 22 October.[2]  Dewdney says that whenever she has used EU law when complaining it has made it easier to gain redress.

Recently a friend of hers booked a hotel in Germany through an online travel agent based in the Netherlands. He was told that the booking did not complete and to book with the hotel directly. When he did this he incurred a 7% admin fee on the credit card payment where there had been none before. Dewdney says “The Directive on Consumer Rights (2011/83/EC) states the need for a trader to ensure that the customer understands what is included in the contract and with no hidden costs. This is clearly not the case here. The email from the website stated that he needed to provide the credit card details and that the hotel would process the payment. The email clearly led him to believe that his contract was still with the website acting as a travel agent but the hotel would only be processing it. The “invoice” which he received after payment showed the credit card charge of 7%. Had the booking gone through normally there would have been no charge.[3] Dewdney succeeded in getting a refund of the full fee. (Full story here).

With more and more of us shopping online it is becoming increasing necessary to not only know our legal consumer rights for this country but in the EU too. If you need help with fighting a case across borders within the EU, the UK European Consumer Centre can advise.

How well do you know your rights? Here’s a list of some you may need to know : [5]

1) The Directive on Consumer Rights (2011/83/EC) [4] 
Understanding what goods and services are being provided and ensuring there are no hidden costs

Burden of proof of contract lies with trader

Right to change your mind when buying at a distance or off premises with a 14 days cooling off period

Deliveries without undue delay within 30 days unless other time frame agreed by both parties

Pre-ticked boxes for additional payments are not allowed

2) EU Directive 1999/44/EC
Minimum 2 year limitation period within which you can bring a legal claim against the retailer from whom you purchased the goods. (In UK it is maximum of 6 years under the Consumer Rights Act 2015)

3) Unfair Consumer Contracts Regulations EU Directive 93/13/EEC
Where you and the trader haven’t negotiated terms a contract term can be deemed as unfair if it creates “significant imbalance” in the trader and consumer’s positions.

4) Denied Boarding Regulations EU EC261
Compensation if your flight is delayed (amounts vary for length and distance departing from any EU airport regardless of airline. More details here.

5) The ADR Directive 2013/11/EU
Consumers can use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) entities for all kinds of contractual disputes that they have with traders. This applies no matter what they purchased (excluding disputes about health and higher education) and whether they purchased it online or offline, domestically or across borders. In the UK retailers need only “signpost” to an ADR scheme, as it is not mandatory for retailers to belong to a scheme.[6]  More here.

[1] Fewer than 45% of People in the UK use their Consumer Rights according to research published in October 2014 here.

[2] Rip Off Britain Live 22 October 2015.

[3] More on the story here

[4] This directive replaces, as of 13 June 2014, Directive 97/7/EC on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts and Directive 85/577/EEC to protect consumer in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises. Directive 1999/44/EC, on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees as well as Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts, remains in force.

[5] More details available from Helen Dewdney.

[6] More details about ADR in the UK here

Alternative Dispute Resolution: What it all means

Alternative Dispute Resolution

From the 9th July 2015 The EU ADR Directive was supposed to come into force. It was delayed until the 1st October. This compels the government to ensure that ADR schemes are in place.

ADR is a process that enables disputes between a consumer and a business to be settled via an independent mechanism outside the court system and can provide a quicker resolution. There are different forms of ADR:

Arbitration – an impartial and independent third party will decide how to resolve your dispute. In most cases, the arbitrator’s decision is binding and cannot be challenged in court. Costs vary and sometimes arbitration is free as with IDRS and ACAS services.

Adjudication – by ombudsmen and free to the consumer. Binding on the trader but not on you should you not agree and want to take the matter to court. For details of ombudsmen see the relevant sector chapter.

Mediation/conciliation – remains confidential and cannot be used in a later court hearing. The cost varies: in some instances it’s free; in others, it can get expensive. By the very nature of the word “mediation” someone will work with you and the other party to reach a decision. If agreement is made and signed this is legally binding. You would only be to go to court to enforce it if necessary.

Negotiation – which is used most commonly in employment situations. You can choose to have a union rep or someone else present while you negotiate.

Generally, arbitration is binding on both parties to the dispute; mediation/conciliation and negotiation are non-binding; and adjudication and ombudsmen schemes do not bind the complainant, but will be binding on the other side.

There’s a guest post from the Financial Ombudsman.

Furniture and dispute resolution guest post.

The ADR appears to have let the flood gates open and the potential for an omnishambles of ombudsmen is upon us.

Film recorded for Citizen’s Advice: