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Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier

Chief Ombudsman helps you get best result from the process

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How to get the best result from an ombudsman

I often hear from people how they think an ombudsman hasn’t been fair or impartial in their case. Most frequently I hear the criticism that the ombudsman always sees in favour of the trader because the trader pays for membership. This is not correct. Nor is it correct that an Ombudsman is a consumer champion. An Ombudsman is impartial. See more at 5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted

I’ve asked Lewis Shand Smith the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services to share the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their issue. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors.

Common ways consumers go wrong in bringing a case to an Ombudsman

Sometimes, people approach the ombudsman with issues outside of their remit. Typically:

  • The complaint has been made too late – complainants have 12 months from the date the supplier issues its final response (known as a deadlock letter) to raise the issue with the ombudsman.
  • The complaint has been made prematurely (less than 8 weeks from the initial complaint or no deadlock letter received) – complainants need to raise the issue with the supplier and give them an opportunity to put things right before the ombudsman can become involved.
  • The trader does not participate in the ombudsman’s scheme.
  • The complaint is about a product or service which does not fall inside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

So, you have your issue, it falls within the remit and you still don’t get the decision you wanted so what do you do?

Submitting cases to an Ombudsman service

Ombudsman Services receives complaints in a variety of forms. There are complaints the energy supplier would have resolved if the right person had picked it up. There are complaints where the parties agree on the facts – but disagree on an appropriate remedy. There are complaints where the parties fundamentally disagree on the facts. And there are complaints where neither party has yet been able to understand what happened.

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).

These figures suggest that the majority of complaints needed Ombudsman Services intervention to ensure a fair remedy for the consumer. But many could have been resolved without Ombudsman Services’ help. In most cases, the complaints reached Ombudsman Services because of a failure in the energy supplier’s complaint handling. But some could have benefited from better complaining from the consumer – or the consumer accepting a resolution that was already fair.

Reasons for not getting desired outcome

So, below are some common reasons why consumer actions mean a complaint is not resolved with the energy company – along with some advice on how not to fall into the traps.

5 top tips for ensuring you have the best case if you need the ombudsman on picture of electricity pylon

Focusing on the problem, not the solution

It is very easy to focus on what went wrong and how it should never have happened. But a complaint normally only ends successfully when the wronged party focusses on what needs to be done to put things right. So, before you complain, think about what you would like your supplier to do to resolve your complaint – and let the supplier know.

Disbelieving accurate responses

When things go wrong, people lose trust. So people often lack confidence in energy company’s answers. It can be worth seeking advice online or from friends and family. This can sometimes provide the reassurance consumers desire without the need for an ombudsman investigation.

Unreasonable expectations / asking for bills or balances to be wiped

Energy suppliers do offer financial awards – but they are normally goodwill gestures to acknowledge what went wrong. Energy suppliers rarely relate awards to the size of a consumer’s outstanding balance.

Ombudsman Services applies similar principles in our complaint handling. Customers should pay the correct amount for the energy they have consumed. If something has gone wrong and a financial award is due – the amount will be proportionate to the trouble the consumer experienced – not the outstanding account balance.

Failing to engage with an energy supplier

Poor energy supplier responses can leave consumers feeling that the problem won’t be resolved without help. But Ombudsman Services can only help after a consumer has tried to resolve the problem with the energy supplier direct for several weeks. As frustrating as it is, consumers should plug away with the energy company. Be clear about what the problem is and what needs to be done to put it right. Do it in writing otherwise it is one word against another and the Ombudsman makes decisions on evidence.

Check out 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively to increase your chances before needing the Ombudsman. Hopefully someone at the energy company will understand the complaint and correct the problem. This will mean a far quicker resolution than if you go to the Ombudsman.

Becoming too invested in the complaint

If a consumer feels they’ve been wronged, they’re likely to tell people about it. Sometimes it turns out that the consumer is at fault, and in such circumstances, it can be difficult for consumers to admit their error to other people on the complaint journey. They can reach for excuses and/or change the substance of their complaint so as not to lose face. This rarely leads to success and escalating to Ombudsman Services can sometimes prolong and increase the disappointment. If a consumer realises that they are wrong, there is sometimes value in not continuing the complaint.

If consumers feel wronged they should always complain; but they should do so in a focused way and seek a proportionate outcome.

Further help with energy complaints

Electricity pylon Everything you need to know to complain about energy problems

 

See All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for advice, tips, information and consumer rights regarding energy complaints.

 

 

Ombudsman website for Energy complaint advice and cases. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): What it all means post that explains what it is all about and how you can use it.

5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted post that tackles misconceptions about an ombudsman.

Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes this post describes how government funded bodies are failing to regulate the non regulated ADR sector. Links to other posts and reports.

Landing in court with Ryanair warning about using AviationADR when dealing with aviation complaints.

Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles the research reports looking at how some ADR schemes such as the one run by Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited owned by Dean Dunham who used to run The Retail Ombudsman and lost the title are being approved and monitored.

Ask the Ombudsman: Kevin Grix CEO Dispute Resolution Ombudsman & The Furniture Ombudsman post looking at what this Ombudsman does with tips on preventing problems when you shop.

Presentation at the 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…

Lewis Shand Smith Biography

Lewis Shand Smith was appointed Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Ombudsman Services in 2009. Ombudsman ServiHead shot Lewis Shand Smithces is a not for profit organisation which resolves disputes in the energy, communications, property, and copyright licensing sectors, amongst others. Lewis was also the Chair of the Ombudsman Association. Previously he was the Crown appointed Deputy Ombudsman and a member of the Executive Board at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). He is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal church and has served several congregations in Motherwell, Shetland and Dumfries. He was a Canon of St Andrew’s cathedral in Aberdeen. From 1990 to 1999 Lewis was a member of Shetland Islands Council, becoming Convener/Leader in 1994. He has served as a non-executive director or trustee with a number of companies and charities. He is a former Vice President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, was a member of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and represented the UK on the European Committee of the Regions.

Further help

 

For tips on writing that initial complaint see Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

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

 

 

 

 

Categories
ADR Ombudsman Business Complaining about faulty goods Latest News Online shopping and deliveries Press releases

The Retail Ombudsman is no more as title is lost

Former “Ombudsman” loses the right to use respected title

Reblogged from http://ceoemail.blogspot.com

 Dean Dunham TRO shop front mannequins

The Retail Ombudsman loses title

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”.

The Retail Ombudsman resigns from the Ombudsman Association

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. It will now operate as a provider of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, outside of the ombudsman system.

Companies House rules on using the “Ombudsman” title

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.

The ADR/Ombudsman landscape

Privately-run ombudsman services have been a feature of the consumer landscape in the UK for several years. However, the system has been heavily criticised by consumer groups. It is described as 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. They preferred to use their own internal complaints process, another ombudsman or ADR scheme.

Who oversees ADR schemes

The appointment, regulation and management of private-sector ombudsmen is fragmented. It is 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.

Comment on the ADR situation

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 both a convicted criminal as its communications director and having an ombudsman 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.

About Dean Dunham

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 has a Sunday Mirror column.

Westminster Business Forum seminar Next steps for consumer protection in the UK – dispute processes, enforcement and the consumer markets green paper. 15/11/18

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

How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -

 

Update 21st July 2017

Statement on The Retail Ombudsman by the Ombudsman Association

Update February 2018

The section from the OA’s minutes below is taken from the More Ombudsman Omnishambles report:

“10.The Retail Ombudsman – loss of ombudsman title
At the 102nd meeting of the Ombudsman Association Executive Committee, on 5 May 2017,the committee decided not to revalidate TRO for the reasons shown below. These minutes were online and publicly available until January 2018. They are now in a “members’ only” section of the OA website. In summary:

1) “The ‘pay as you go’ model operated in relation to their ‘Independent members’ resulted in a relationship that did not meet  theOA’s membership criteria.”

2) “TRO did not have significant coverage / market share of the retail sector,”

3) “Concerns about the misleading information that had been provided on the Retail Ombudsman’s website”

4) “Concerns in the information provided regarding their list of members.”

5) “Presentation of non-member logos in their annual report could be misleading”

6) “Been alerted that 33 of the Furniture Ombudsman’s corporate members were at that time incorrectly listed on the Retail Ombudsman website as being Independent Members of their scheme. The Validation Committee had subsequently received correspondence from some of those organisations confirming they had no relationship
with the Retail Ombudsman.”

7) “Awareness of the proliferation activity of the Retail Ombudsman in setting up online and social media presences for other sectors: FinanceADR, UtilitiesADR and CommsADR. The FinanceADR website advertised that they could deal with some complaints that in fact fell within the regulated jurisdiction of the Financial Ombudsman Service.”

8) “Concerns about levels of governance and accountability within the organisation.”

9) “The Executive unanimously agreed that the accumulation of examples of inaccurate and potentially misleading information to the public in relation to their membership and jurisdiction demonstrated that the Retail Ombudsman did not meet the OA’s overall membership criteria of Openness & Transparency, and risked substantial reputational damage to the OA.”

“The Executive did not have the trust or confidence that these issues could be resolved satisfactorily and voted unanimously to propose the expulsion of the Retail Ombudsman
under section 6 of the Association’s Rules.”(Please see Appendix J for  full details).

CDRL statement

A statement placed on The Retail Ombudsman website in July 2017 claims that the decision to transition from ombudsman to non-ombudsman had been taken entirely by Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited:

“CDRL had aspirations to expand its ADR offering, under The Retail Ombudsman brand into sectors beyond high street and online retail. However, last year Ombudsman Association introduced a rule that it would only allow one ‘ombudsman’ scheme per sector which meant that CDRL would not be able to continue its expansion plans as an ombudsman. Naturally, CDRL had to respect this decision.”

However, the OA had written to TRO to outline its position before it resigned.

Ombudsman Association’s position on The Retail Ombudsman

In response to TRO’s statement, the OA responded:

“The OA’s Validation Committee reviewed The Retail Ombudsman’s (TRO) submission for re-validation on 25 January 2017 and on 19 April 2017.

TRO was originally admitted to ‘Ombudsman membership’ of the OA as it appeared on paper that our membership criteria was met, but it was subject to re-validation so that practical evidence of compliance could be demonstrated.

The Validation Committee reviewed the application and the further papers submitted. Following careful consideration the Validation Committee unanimously agreed that TRO did not meet the OA’s membership criteria.

The Validation Committee’s recommendation was considered by the OA Executive Committee on 5 May 2017, and was carried unanimously. TRO was invited to address the next meeting of the OA Executive Committee before a final vote be taken to withdraw TRO’s membership. However, TRO resigned its membership before the final stage of the revalidation process was completed.”

It would appear therefore that TRO resigned, rather than be expelled, as it would have been if it had fully completed the OA’s revalidation process.”

Update 23 August 2018

Landing in court with Ryanair the latest including failures in AviationADR, Which? and The Independent reports on CDRL which runs these schemes.

Ombudsman/ADR reports

Report cover CDRL, CTSI, CAA, OA, Dean Dunham,

 

June 2016 Ombudsman Omnishambles Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK

 

 

 

Crowds of people with report covering OA, CTSI, CA, CDRL, Dean Dunham & others

 

February 2018 More Ombudsman Omnishambles The UK ADR Landcsape 20 months on 

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/

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

The Retail Ombudsman brochure for retailers