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ADR: A Government consultation

On 20 June 2021 the Government finally published its consumer paper for consultation titled Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy. The closing date is for responses to the consultation is 11.45am on 1 October 2021.

The document is 147 pages long! So, I am going to do a summary/opinion piece on areas of the consultation.

I will start with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). It can be complicated but over the last 6 years I have been recognised in the consumer world for my expertise and knowledge in the area and often get called upon in the media to talk about ADR due to this.

See ADR – all about it for World Ombudsman Day lists all my work in this area.

See Reviews: A Government Consultation and Subscriptions: A Government Consultation for response on subscription traps.

ADR falls within the section of Consumer Law Enforcement.

Marcus Williamson and I co-wrote two research reports on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Report cover CDRL, CTSI, CAA, OA, Dean Dunham,The first was Ombudsman Omnishambles:  Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK. (OO) in June 2016

The second was More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on… in February 2018 (MOO). These were both highly critical of the Chartered Trading Standards Institution (CTSI) and of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in particular for their approval and monitoring of ADR schemes. Many of the issues raised in both these reports remain unresolved.

The Government is looking at examining ways to “mainstream” ADR, so it not seen as an alternative to court but becomes an integral part of the justice system. It currentlu aims to increase the scope of ADR and the rate of consumer disputes being satisfactorily resolved.

The consultation is looking at responses to three areas.

Summary of one section of the Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy consultation:

“Government believes a well-functioning ADR system can make markets work more effectively and drive economic growth, as it increases consumers’ confidence in spending and generates higher trader compliance with the law. However, responses to the Consumer Green Paper suggest that a number of improvements need to be made to improve the quality and scope of ADR so that it delivers for more consumers and businesses in all markets. In this chapter, government is seeking views on three specific improvements that were highlighted by respondents:

Improving consumer awareness and signposting – the current landscape for accessing redress is confusing and the process varies across markets. This is dissuading consumers from seeking private redress and enforcing their consumer rights.

Responses to the Consumer Green Paper said that consumers still find it difficult to understand their redress options, make the right choice for them and navigate the routes to resolving their problem, particularly if they are vulnerable.”

“Speeding up access to ADR  – In regulated markets, the majority of disputes are resolved within four weeks, but most regulators have typically set an upper limit of eight weeks for businesses to resolve complaints before consumers are entitled to take a dispute to ADR.

Government is looking for views on whether regulators should aim to set a significantly lower threshold for consumers to exercise their right to access ADR and if so whether exceptions could or should be made to allow more time to resolve complex cases.

“Improving the take-up of ADR by businesses in non-regulated markets – Business participation in ADR is particularly low in non-regulated sectors with a high number of SMEs and microbusinesses. This is concerning if those sectors are also ones where consumers are experiencing high levels of harm.”

The following is summarised from the policy. Pages 116 – 127 in the section titled “Supporting consumers enforcing their rights independently”

Improving Alternative Dispute Resolution

“Government proposes to require that all providers of consumer ADR are assessed and approved for their ability to provide an ADR service. Currently there are numerous non-accredited and unsupervised providers that offer dispute resolution on an informal basis alongside accredited providers.

Mandatory approval by the Competent Authority would mean that all providers operate to a common set of quality standards and oversight.”

It intends to strengthen the minimum service expectations of all ADR providers, focusing on four key principles to improve the quality of ADR – “neutrality, efficiency, accessibility, and transparency”.

“Government proposes to amend the ADR regulations, building on its existing framework to incorporate additional requirements for ADR providers, both as part of their initial accreditation and as part of their service provision to consumers and businesses. “These would include strengthening the accreditation process through the introduction of a ‘fit and proper persons’ test for key personnel to ensure that businesses owners, officers and senior management are suitable people to undertake those roles.”

It is generally mandatory for traders to participate in ADR schemes in the regulated sectors. For sectors where participation is voluntary, there is little engagement for a number of reasons. In the unregulated sectors, house and garden maintenance services, vehicle maintenance and repair services, and used cars are the sectors where consumers spend the most money so can receive the most harm.

“Government is considering a charge of £10-20 to consumers, with this being recoverable from the business if their case is upheld. There is a precedent for this in the aviation sector. “To address these concerns and deter frivolous or low value complaints, government is seeking views on whether ADR providers should be able to implement a lower limit on the value of claims. This would be balanced to ensure only higher value claims are in scope but not to significantly restrict consumers’ access to ADR.”

“Government is looking at incentivising businesses and consumers to use ADR on a voluntary basis. Responses to the Consumer Green Paper and further stakeholder engagement, showed that mandating ADR in would be significantly more effective than voluntary measures in ensuring access to affordable redress. Government is looking at making participation mandatory in the motor vehicles sector (to include the supply of new and used vehicles and servicing and repair) and in the home improvements market (such as roofing, glazing, plumbing work, or the fitting of flooring, kitchens, or bathrooms).”

“Government is considering requiring businesses in these sectors to pay for ADR on a pay per use basis but recognises that some businesses might find it more cost effective to pay an ADR provider on a subscription basis.”

“The UK has an established regime for addressing collective consumer harm and enabling consumers to gain collective redress when consumer law has been broken. This covers both public collective redress procedures, whereby regulators and the CMA can seek redress on behalf of consumers. Enforcers, such as the CMA, seek compliance with consumer law rather than taking representative legal action on behalf of consumers. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 strengthened routes for public enforcers to seek collective redress and government forsees the changes to make it easier and quicker for bodies to obtain redress on behalf of consumers.”

“Government is considering a range of options that will incentivise compliance and encourage businesses to use ADR. It is also looking at options that will disadvantage businesses that refuse to engage in an ADR process if the consumer eventually needs to take them to court.”

Helen Dewdney The Complaining Cow responses to the consultation Download

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Latest News

CAB launches super-complaint into penalising loyal customers

Citizen’s Advice Bureau calls for penalising loyal consumers to stop

CAB press release

Citizen’s Advice Bureau has today launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). It is calling for the regulator to look into how consumers are being penalised for loyalty in 5 key sectors. It requests an outline from the CMA on how the problem can be fixed.

CAB’s press release said:

“Citizens Advice has revealed customers who stay loyal to their providers are losing out on over £4 billion a year.

The practice of overcharging loyal customers is widespread and Citizens Advice has repeatedly warned that loyal consumers are being ripped off.

Research by Citizens Advice found that across 5 essential markets (mobile, broadband, home insurance, mortgages and savings):

British consumers lose £4.1 billion a year to the loyalty penalty.

8 in 10 people are paying a significantly higher price, in at least one of the markets, for remaining with their existing supplier.

The loyalty penalty is, on average, £877 per year – equal to 3% of the average household’s total annual expenditure.”

ABI and BIBA

Back in May of this year, the ABI (Association of British Insurers) and BIBA (British Insurance Brokers’ Association) launched a set of Guiding Principles and Action Points  The ABI and BIBA has said it wants its insurance industry members to provide all the information about switching in their correspondence to customers.

Graeme Trudgill, Executive Director said “This guidance was a massive step forward in addressing any large discrepancies in premiums between new business and renewal and was put in place after the CA survey was done which informed their report.

In addition the FCA requirement to advise customers that have been with the same provider for several years that other providers are available – their ‘increasing transparency and renewal in general insurance markets’ – launched mid 2017 and may not have been reflected in the research.

“Though some customers may be able to obtain lower premiums it is important to en sure that the cover they have is suitable. Our members, insurance brokers most often do not set premiums and are able to help customers with the ‘shopping around ‘ at renewal. Since the launch of the principles and action points we’ve been highlighting to members the importance of double checking that customers who have been with the same insurer for a while are being offered a fair premium and we will continue to push this message hard with our members.”

The Financial Conduct Authority

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has added its support. In a press release it stated:

“The FCA has been concerned about the issue of long-standing customers being charged more for some financial products than new customers for some time. This has informed our earlier work on cash savings and mortgages.

In the FCA’s 2018/2019 Business Plan we announced that we were looking at the pricing practices of general insurance firms. As part of that work we will launch a market study looking at how general insurance firms charge their customers for home and motor insurance. The terms of reference for this market study will be published in a few weeks’ time.”

Update 22/09/20 The FCA sets out proposals to tackle concerns about general insurance pricing

Government stance on loyal consumers

To coincide with the super-complaint The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a review of Smart data to protect consumers from rip-off tariffs to look at how the use of technology, such as comparison tools and open banking, can support consumers. It will also cover the speeding up of creative and innovative approaches.

Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst said:

“Britain has long been a world leader in ensuring that markets work in the interests of consumers, but many loyal customers are still paying more than they need to.

The Smart Data Review will enable the development of new technologies to make it easier to access the best deals, and follows tough action we have taken in the energy market through our price cap which will protect over 11 million households from poor value default tariffs this winter.

It is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, ensuring markets provide consumers with keen prices and quality products and services through cutting-edge innovation.”

The Government has said it “… wants to ensure that all consumers can benefit from these types of innovative new services, not just those who are digitally savvy and regularly look to switch providers.” But if the review is to only look at technology, one wonders how.

The importance of switching energy suppliers and telecom providers on ITV News

In previous research, CAB found that it is the most vulnerable who are hit by these penalties. It’s exploitation of vulnerable consumers plain and simple.

Let’s hope things are moving in the right direction, and fast!

Help and resources in saving money when renewing cover

All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

All you need to know to make a complaint about energy

How to save money on your car insurance

Top 20 tips for complaining effectively

If you don’t get satisfaction from customer services write to the CEO. You can find their contact details on the CEO email website. You are unlikely to get a personal response but it will escalate matters.

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For lots of help, advice, consumer laws and template letters for complaining about most issues in most sectors GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!