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Talking Trading Standards – with Leon Livermore, former head of CTSI

I talk with former CEO of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). Leon Livermore, in a series of  interviews. In the first one we discuss his work at CTSI.

Leon in his kitchen

What is the CTSI?

Leon Livermore was the CEO of the CTSI, for almost 8 years until March 2021. The CTSI works with the Government, UK and EU Parliamentary institutions, businesses, consumer organisations and other regulatory bodies to maintain and improve customer protection. It is also responsible for reinforcing fair markets and supporting businesses in their legal duties, competitiveness and success.

Businesses need to be aware of/members of the CTSI as it helps them understand their legal obligations and enhances their reputation, profile and performance.

I’ve met him a few times at various events and sort of got on! I say “sort of” because over the years I’ve co-written two research reports on Alternative Dispute Resolution. (ADR) [1]. Both of these were highly critical of the CTSI and CAA, in particular, for their approval and monitoring of ADR schemes.

So I thought it would be interesting to have a chat about his time at CTSI and challenge him on ADR too!

When The Complaining Cow chatted with the former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore

 

The forum meeting Leon refers to in that clip was replicated:

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

 

Pride and enjoyment

But we started with the easy stuff! I asked Leon what achievement he was most proud of and what he had enjoyed the most during his time at CTSI. He was most proud of achieving chartered status, having applied for this a number of times, and having to sort out qualifications and other issues. This status placed the profession on the same footing as others and clearly gives CTSI the mandate from the UK Government (it is awarded by HM the Queen through the privy Council) to speak with authority on all matters of Trading Standards and competence.

He enjoyed the work involved with introducing and implementing the CTST-Approved Codes of Practice.

Leon Livermore ex CTSI CEO talks about his proudest achievements

The challenges of regulation and possible solutions – Challenges born of crisis but soon forgotten

When asked what the biggest challenge was, Leon was highly critical of the Government and the current regulatory system. He spoke of Grenfell and of Whirlpool and said how, at the time of the foot and mouth crisis, money was heavily invested in animal health and welfare which was subsequently reduced because people lose that collective memory for past disasters.

“Take 60-70% out of the regulatory network, no-one notices until it goes wrong.”

It doesn’t make sense to have around 220 individual local Trading Standards services now, he says. That model was designed when everyone shopped locally and they obviously don’t now! There is a disconnect, with Government saying that local Trading Standards should undertake the consumer-facing work but localities not having the funding to carry out that work. Recognising that no-one is going to change the structure of Trading Standards, he calls for accountability at the level of Central Government. Grenfell and Whirlpool brought a focus on safety and a Minister was put in place who could be held to account.

Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks with The Complaining Cow about challenges of working in CTSI.

Whirlpool drier recall – more spin than real action?

We discussed our joint contempt for how the Whirlpool situation was left to the local Trading Standards department in Peterborough when it was a national problem. I wrote about Whirlpool a lot on my blog, including a report in 2018 which brought together a number of Freedom of Information Requests and statements from relevant bodies. Whirlpool – The tumble dryer story without the spin. Leon spoke about having to sit “with the bad guys” in a meeting with BEIS (Department for Business, Enterprise, Industrial Strategy (I call them BEIGE!) and having to try and justify the decision made by the local authority, when it should never have been left to them. He also spoke of how CTSI “…called for a full recall ahead of Which? and anyone else” and that this was at the same time as Peterborough Trading Standards department was giving different advice to Whirlpool.

Although there was nothing wrong with the advice they gave, which was their job to do, it just “didn’t pass that mum’s testIt didn’t sit right but it is hard for a local regulator that is exposed to so much risk to follow the letter of the law, he said. He argues that this is when the national regulator needs to come in and say what is in the best interests of consumers and provide the quicker more simple solution

In 2018 the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was established on the back of the Whirlpool events. Leon praised the set-up of the Food Standards Agency and their work with local authorities and hopes that the OPSS will work in a similar fashion and so if something similar ever happens again then work will be quicker. But he is concerned that faulty and dangerous machines are still being used. He wants a system that protects people more efficiently but that people’s memories are so short!

Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO discusses the Whirlpool events with Helen Dewdney

Next time in the interview series

Look out for the next episode where Leon and I talk ADR! Having had good debates, arguments and differences of opinion over the years, what does he think now? What will we agree on and what did he think went wrong. Most importantly, how could the ADR scene be improved?

Notes

[1] These reports were:

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

and

More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on…

 

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ADR Ombudsman Topical

5 Ombudsman myths 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 and 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 not the provision.

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, (OA)). The OA 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 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 ADR 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).

14/10/20 update more recent examples:

In 2019, of the complaints The Motor Ombudsman investigated it:

  • upheld 41% in favour of the customer
  • upheld 53% in favour of the business
  • 2% did not provide enough evidence to make a decision either way and
  • 4% were withdrawn

In 2019 of the complaints that The Furniture and home Improvement Ombudsman investigated:

  • 4192 (42%) consumer cases were not upheld
  • 3051 (58%) consumer cases were upheld in full or in part
Rip Off Britain talking getting redress with independent reports and ombudsmen

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 scheme Year No. Reason for expulsion
The Motor Ombudsman 2016 3 2 Non-cooperation with scheme, 1 with outcome
The Motor Ombudsman 2015 8 Non-cooperation with scheme
The Furniture Ombudsman 2016 0 N/A
The Furniture Ombudsman 2017 1 Non 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…

 

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

 

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.

07/10/20 International Ombuds day – what’s it all about

07/10/20 CAA launches consultation and tells no-one

16/12/20 CMA steps in where the CAA fears to tread

man talking to couple

For help with a complaint

See Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively

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For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy the How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

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