Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes

The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system for resolving consumer complaints is broken and in danger of collapse. This is one of the conclusions of a damning new report released today. The report reveals that Government bodies have not heeded the warnings of an earlier report and that regulators have been complicit in making the situation even worse.

Ombudsman Omnishambles The UK ADR landscape 20 months on...The report, “More Ombudsman Omnishambles – 20 months on“, written by consumer campaigners Helen Dewdney and Marcus Williamson, follows on from their June 2016 report that exposed serious failings in the UK ADR system.

The original report highlighted the failings of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Ombudsman Association (OA) in their approvals and oversight of organisations providing alternative dispute resolution for consumers and business.

In February 2018 the Government announced that it was seeking to reduce the number of ADR providers in property to one because of consumer confusion. Despite this, the CTSI continues to approve providers in all sectors, significantly complicating the situation for consumers. For example, South Yorkshire Trading Standards and Kent County Council have already been approved for ADR in retail sectors which are already well covered. In addition, the CTSI is failing to deal with one particular provider which was previously known as The Retail Ombudsman (Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited) and which continues to provide ADR services in a variety of sectors. (RetailADR, AviationADR, UtilitiesADR, CommsADR)

The report demonstrates how the CTSI and the CAA are not verifying information given by providers in their annual reports and in the media. In order for an ADR provider to be an Ombudsman, it must meet certain standards and be a member of the Ombudsman Association. The report highlights that the Ombudsman Association has higher standards for approving an ADR provider (see minutes in report). These include not accepting organisations which have poor governance and corporate control and which provide misleading information.

The authors of both reports, Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney, are appalled at what they have discovered during this research. Dewdney says “Consumers are confused by the whole ADR sector. Public money – and consumers’ time – is being wasted because of inadequate monitoring and the approval of organisations which shouldn’t be providing services to the public or which simply aren’t necessary.”

The new report makes a total of 13 recommendations. These include:

· ADR providers should all work towards the higher “Ombudsman” status.
· There should be no new entrants to an ADR sector which already has a
well-established and properly functioning scheme.
· Approval bodies should have access to case management systems to check figures
as part of annual reviews.
· Reviews and reports by ADR providers should all be verified by a chartered
statistician.
· There should be a central portal which signposts consumers to the correct ADR
scheme, funded by the schemes, to reduce confusion for consumers.More Ombudsman Omnishambles crowds of people

About the authors
Helen Dewdney is “The Complaining Cow”, a consumer campaigner, author and broadcaster who blogs here http://www.thecomplainingcow.co.uk She is the author of the consumer advice book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! 

Marcus Williamson is a journalist and campaigner with a background in the Information Technology sector. In 2010 he established the website http://CEOemail.com which now helps more than 10,000 people every day to resolve consumer issues by escalating them to the individuals who can make a difference, the CEOs and MDs of companies and other organisations.

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

Update 08 February 2018. Changes to complaints handling guidance – decision letter and the consultation responses.

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 Retail Ombudsman is no more

Former “Ombudsman” loses the right to use respected title

Reblogged from http://ceoemail.blogspot.com

Mannequins  clothes on in shop text The Tretail Ombudsman is no more
Here’s why

The Retail Ombudsman (TRO) is no more. The private company, set up in 2015 to
provide dispute resolution for consumers, has lost the right to use the respected
title of “Ombudsman”.

TRO has resigned from the Ombudsman Association (OA), its trade body, for reasons
that remain unclear. The resignation means that it is no longer allowed to use the
“Ombudsman” title. The company is in the process of dropping the title during the
course of this week and will now operate as a provider of alternative dispute
resolution (ADR) services, outside of the ombudsman system.

Companies House rules stipulate that companies using the “Ombudsman” title must be
members of the OA. The OA seeks to ensure the quality of its members through a
periodic revalidation process. However, rather than complete the recent
revalidation process, TRO resigned just as that process was concluding. Neither
the OA nor TRO would comment on the circumstances which have caused the
resignation.

Privately-run ombudsman services have been a feature of the consumer landscape in
the UK for several years. However, the system has been criticised for being
difficult to use, lacking transparency and not having a single point of contact
for consumers. Many of the largest high-street retailers, including ASDA, Tesco
and Morrisons, had refused to co-operate with TRO, preferring to use their own
internal complaints process or another ombudsman or ADR scheme.

The appointment, regulation and management of private-sector ombudsmen is
fragmented, dealt with through a complicated combination of the Department for
Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Chartered Trading Standards
Institute (CTSI), the Ombudsman Association (OA) and Companies House. BEIS would
not comment on TRO’s loss of ombudsman status, instead deferring to the Companies
House press office, who in turn have not provided any substantive comment.

Marcus Williamson, the editor of consumer information website CEOemail.com, who
has been monitoring private ADR since 2014, said: “The behaviour of TRO – in
resigning during the OA revalidation process – demonstrates once again that a
retail ombudsman role is too sensitive to be handled by the private sector. It is
time that retail was given a government-run ombudsman system, in a similar way to
the financial sector.”

Williamson – who co-authored the June 2016 report Ombudsman Omnishambles with
Helen Dewdney – suggested that TRO’s management had made a number of fundamental
errors of judgement in its 2 1/2 years of operation. This included, he noted,
employing a convicted criminal as its communications director and having as
ombudsman an individual who had breached the Companies Act on multiple occasions.
Williamson believes that OA and CTSI should insist on a “fit and proper person”
test prior to allowing any individual to take on an ombudsman role.

The Retail Ombudman had been run by Dean Dunham, a solicitor, former restauranteur
and former celebrity lawyer, who established TRO in early 2015. He claimed to have
15,000 retail companies as members of TRO and 100 staff, although the company’s
accounts filed at Companies House do not support these figures. He also had a
regular slot on the London-based LBC talk radio channel, offering consumer advice,
and a Sunday Mirror column.

Update 21st July 2017 Statement on The Retail Ombudsman by the Ombudsman Association

References

Companies House rules on use of Ombudsman title
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incorporation-and-names/annex-a-sensitive-words-and-expressions-or-words-that-could-imply-a-connection-with-government
(see paragraph 1.86)

TRO members list
https://www.theretailombudsman.org.uk/tro-list/

TRO staff numbers and retail members
https://www.theretailombudsman.org.uk/why-the-retail-ombudsman-is-the-best-adr-choice-for-small-retailers/

Ombudsman Omnishambles report
http://ceoemail.com/ombudsman-omnishambles.pdf

Companies formerly run by Dean Dunham
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/officers/yEuzy-BYjZK6erw9hbUGFZ1Y4SU/appointments

Accounts for Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited, trading as The Retail Ombudsman
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09189773/filing-history

Contact at the OA
Nick Bennett, Chairman of the OA
Nick.Bennett@ombudsman-wales.org.uk

The Retail Ombudsman brochure for retailers

Contact for this press releae

Marcus Williamson
Email: marcus@connectotel.com

 

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.

National Consumer Week 2nd November 2015

Knowyournewrightsgraphic1Week beginning 2nd November is National Consumer Week. Citizens Advice, Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills today launch National Consumer Week and are urging people to get to know their new consumer rights as Christmas shopping gets underway.

Faulty goods, misleading claims and substandard services mean Christmas presents fly back on to the shelves in January, according to new figures from Citizens Advice. Analysis by the charity shows that people are more likely to call its Consumer Service helpline with complaints about items such as toys, computer games and jewellery in January than any other time of year.

The findings reveal that complaints to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service about toys doubled in January 2015 in comparison to the rest of the year, while problems with DVDs, video games, games consoles, and sound systems rose by two thirds.

The top five most complained about personal goods in January 2015 were:

  • Tablets, notebooks and laptops hit the number one spot. Last January saw 850 complaints, one third higher than the rest of the year.

  • Women’s clothing – complaints rose by a fifth

  • Televisions – the helpline saw a third more enquiries.

  • Toys – toys had the biggest increase in complaints, which were more than double than any other time of the year

  • Jewellery –  complaints increased by two fifths

Complaints were most likely to be about defective goods, while one in seven people contacted the service because of misleading claims and descriptions about their purchase. One in twenty complained that businesses didn’t honour their cancellation rights.

Citizens Advice has developed a ‘Know Your Rights’ guide explaining the big changes to consumer law that Christmas shoppers should know.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Buying gifts should be hassle-free but not everyone gets what they pay for. Too often, we hear from people with problem purchases struggling to get the replacement or refund that they deserve. Clearer consumer rights will make it easier for shoppers to know what they are entitled to, so if a Christmas gift isn’t up to scratch, they know how to get their money back. Citizens Advice urges people to do their homework before they hit the shops this Christmas and make sure they know their rights if they have problems with their purchases”.

Consumer Minister Nick Boles said: “Whether downloading music or buying a fridge freezer, the new Consumer Rights Act makes it easier for shoppers to understand their rights and simplifies the law for businesses. UK consumers spend £90 billion a month and the “Know your New Rights Campaign” will help them to shop with confidence.”

Leon Livermore, CTSI Chief Executive, said: “Retailers are responsible for training their staff but consumers should spend a few minutes familiarising themselves with the new laws too. Consumers who know their rights shop with confidence, saving time and money, which is good for all concerned. People should consider their rights whenever they make a purchase but they may wish to take extra care at Christmas. Nobody wants to give or receive a defective product but it is important to know how to resolve any issues, should they arise.”

Fraser Sutherland, Consumer spokesman for Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “By releasing these figures now, we are sending a message to Scotland’s consumers ahead of this year’s Christmas shopping. You have new rights to protect you against scams and shoddy goods. You don’t have to put up with second-rate smoothie-makers or terrible toys. If it doesn’t work or is of poor quality you have a right to have a refund. If you are unsure of your rights, visit our website or talk to your local Citizens Advice.”

Marcus Williamson, Editor of the consumer information website CEOemail.com, which provides contacts details for the CEO of any company, said “Knowing your rights is an important part of shopping, whether at Christmas or any other time. We would recommend consumers understand the new law, so that they can take the necessary steps if things go wrong after they’ve bought a product or service. Thank you to CAB for their valuable ‘Know your New Rights’ Campaign.”

Anyone who needs advice on goods and services they have purchased can call the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06, or online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk. More information can be found on this website including the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, redress and Results! which provides advice, guidance, tips, laws and template letters.

A series of videos made for Citizens Advice Bureau for Consumers Week.