5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted

Ombudsman separating the truth from the misconceptions

Background to ADR and Ombudsmen

Alternative Dispute Resolution providers which include ombudsmen, provide services for business and consumers. When you can’t get your complaint resolved and the trader is a member of a scheme you can take your complaint to an ADR provider. Alternative Dispute Resolution: What it all means

In April 2018 the Government produced some research, Resolving Consumer Disputes. The findings included “…in cases where the ADR provider decided in favour of the consumer 83% of consumers perceived the process to be fair. This dropped to 17% in cases where the decision was in favour of the trader or a compromise. A similar, but less extreme, variation was seen for consumers who had used the courts (90% v. 53%).” Not exactly surprising.

lots of images of people shaking hands

The myths about ADR

Being in the world of consumer rights and stuff I talk about this area a lot. However, so often I hear the same inaccurate assumptions and beliefs from members of the public, including journalists. Sometimes these come from personal experience, sometimes guesses, sometimes from inaccuracies reported in the media and sometimes from I don’t know what! There are a lot of issues with the sector but these are mainly to do with oversight of the approval.

But here I am going to bust a few of those popular myths and hope it helps make things clearer! I’m using the term Ombudsman for ease but ADR provider is still the same in terms of these myths. (However, an Ombudsman has to be member of the Ombudsman Association which has higher standards than for non members as shown by their minutes of a meeting revoking the Retail Ombudsman’s membership. See The Retail Ombudsman is no more and the minutes in appendix  J of More Ombudsman Omnishambles.)

5 Commonly held beliefs about ombudsmen

1) Ombudsman are consumer champions

Nope. A consumer champion will fight for the consumer. An ombudsman is an unbiased service. Each case is looked at individually and decisions are made on the evidence provided.

2) Ombudsmen are paid by the traders so will always see in their favour

Nope. The traders pay yes. The alternative would be for consumers to pay at least a proportion! The traders pay a yearly fee plus a case fee. If the case goes to arbitration then in some cases, such as with the Furniture Ombudsman and an independent inspection is required, the trader pays for this too. Therefore it is actually in the traders’ interest to try and resolve the matter and for it not to go to the Ombudsman. If you look at providers’ annual reviews you will see the breakdown of percentages of cases won by trader etc. If the consumer were made to pay as well you might as well go to court and these schemes are there to provide an ALTERNATIVE! An Ombudsman service gets paid the same win or lose so there is no incentive to find in favour of either party.

As an example:

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

Rip Off Britain Independent reports

3) All ombudsmen are funded by Government

Nope. All providers in the non-regulated sector, such as furniture and airlines are funded by the industry. Providers in the regulated sector such as the Financial Ombudsman, energy and telecoms are also funded by the industry so that services are free to consumers. Others, such as  the Local Government Ombudsman are funded with public funds.

4) If the trader doesn’t want to pay up it won’t

In the regulated areas of finance, energy and telecoms if a trader doesn’t abide by an ombudsman’s decision then it will be reported to the regulator. Financial Conduct Authority, Ofgem and Ofcom. They will investigate and if found to be in breach of the rules can be shut down. In the non-regulated areas if the trader doesn’t abide by a decision they will be expelled from the scheme. The rate for non compliance is very low.

ADR schemeYearNo.Reason for expulsion
The Motor Ombudsman201632 Non-cooperation with scheme, 1 with outcome
The Motor Ombudsman20158Non-cooperation with scheme
The Furniture Ombudsman20160N/A
The Furniture Ombudsman20171Non compliance

There are however issues with compliance in the aviation sector, particularly with AviationADR members. See more details in More Ombudsman Omnishambles and Landing in Court with Ryanair.

5) There are lots of people who have gone to court when not happy with Ombudsman decision

If the Ombudsman doesn’t see in your favour it doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. It could be that you didn’t provide enough evidence and the same could happen in court. See Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier for an article from the Energy Ombudsman on how best to present your case.

The court option always remains open to you. But actually very few people do this. An ombudsman will usually be open to looking again at any case if you have more evidence. A judge can only look at evidence. There are cases where people go to the Small Claims Court, but often these don’t get reported accurately in the media which is misleading. For example, one recent case was reported in the media as the judge seeing in favour of the consumer where the ombudsman hadn’t. Actually it was because the trader didn’t attend and so a default judgement was made.

There are issues with ADR

Yup. Not a myth!

Westminster Business Forum seminar Next steps for consumer protection in the UK – dispute processes, enforcement and the consumer markets green paper. 15/11/18 Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest possible sense of the words…

 

Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest sense of the words…

 

There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are to do with the oversight by the approval bodies. See Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to reports (Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles in particular). They also link to articles from Which? and The Independent that describe a number of problems which are not the fault of providers and provide  warnings about one provider, Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited run by Dean Dunham which runs RetailADR, UtitlitiesADR and AviationADR.

 

man talking to couple

 

Christmas is coming… are online retailers getting fat?

Online shopping and National Consumer Week

Christmas is coming and many of us will be shopping online. But it’s not just the internet giants who will reap the rewards of the Festive Season. Many smaller retailers and individuals are benefiting by using the big-name platforms, such as Amazon and Ebay, to sell their goods. In fact, more than half of the products sold on Amazon worldwide in 2017 were from third-party sellers.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Trading Standards have launched a campaign to raise awareness of using online marketplaces, such as on Amazon, GumTree and eBay. This is part of National Consumer Week, which starts on 26th November 2018, to coincide with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

National Consumer Week picture of laptop

So, how do you best protect yourself when shopping online, if you’re dealing with individual sellers?

What you need to know when shopping from a business through a marketplace

1)    Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, consumers have 14 days cooling off period for changing their minds. You have up to 14 days to inform the retailer and 14 days from then to send back. There are some exceptions to this, such as bespoke items. Whether or not return postage has to be paid depends on the trader’s terms and conditions. If the item is faulty you should receive the full cost of any postage paid for sending the item to you and for returning it.

2)    For any complaint you will need to go through the platform’s process for complaining to an external seller. You may also find that the platform gives you additional protection.

3)    The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that items must be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time. You can return any items if they do not meet any of these requirements. You do not have to pay return postage in this instance.

4)    If you are buying from an individual and not a business then the item needs only to be “as described”.

5)    If you paid extra for a dated/timed delivery and it does not arrive on time you are entitled to a full refund of the extra cost.

6)    Goods must be delivered within the time frame agreed with the seller. If one hasn’t been agreed (you have agreed a time frame if the listing supplies a time frame) the seller must deliver ‘without undue delay’ and at the very latest not more than 30 days from the day after the contract is made. After this time you are entitled to a full refund.

7)    Check where the item is being sent from! You will have the equivalent consumer rights if ordered from within the EU but not if it is ordered from outside the EU.

Rip Off Britain shopping online

8)    Use a payment system, such as PayPal, when purchasing items. This will give you cover if anything goes wrong with the purchase.

9)    If the item is over £100 (and under £30,000) and you purchase the item on a credit card, you have a right to be refunded via the credit card company if you make a claim within 6 years (5 in Scotland), using Section 75A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

10) Completing a credit card transaction through a third party payment service means that the credit card provider and the seller are no longer in a direct relationship, so are not equally liable. So, you do not have the credit card cover if you use a third-party payment service such as PayPal, Amazon Marketplace, Worldpay and Google Checkout.

Research into knowledge of consumer rights and  online shopping

The CAB’s summary information for National Consumer Week looked at research into habits and problems with online shopping.

“Nearly half of people (48%) didn’t think there was a difference in their consumer rights when buying online compared to buying in a store, despite the fact that they usually have enhanced rights on returns for online purchases.

A significant proportion of people didn’t know their rights changed depending on the type of seller – for example a trader or private seller – with over a third (35%) saying there wasn’t a difference in their rights and a further 9% saying they didn’t know either way.”

“The most common redress issue reported to the consumer service is where the consumer wanted a refund but was struggling to get one.”

This was from the BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker August 2018

Further help with online shopping

woman sitting at computer text how not to get ripped off when shopping online

 

Don’t let shopping online become a “rip off”

Your Rights, Mail Order, Online and Deliveries

 

 

Your rights with deliveries:

Deliveries ITV news with Martin Lewis, Helen Dewdney & Peter Handley

More resources for complaining effectively

Top 20 Tips for Complaining Effectively

Complaining on social media

The twitter symbol How not to complain on Twitter

 

Is social media an effective method for complaining?

5 ways how not to use Twitter to complain (and 5 ways how you should)

 

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

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