5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted

Ombudsman separating the truth from the myth

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 members of the Ombudsamn 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.

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).

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…

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

 

Landing in court with Ryanair

Update 05 December 2018

The BBC reports Ryanair compensation claims to go to court

“The Civil Aviation Authority has said it is taking legal action against Ryanair over its refusal to compensate thousands of UK-based customers.

Their flights were cancelled or delayed over the summer because of strikes by Ryanair pilots and cabin crew.

The CAA says they are entitled to compensation under EU law.

However, Ryanair argues the strike action amounts to “extraordinary circumstances” and that therefore, it does not have to pay.”

“Ryanair has now told the CAA that it has terminated its agreement with ADR.

“As a result of Ryanair’s action, passengers with an existing claim will now have to await the outcome of the Civil Aviation Authority’s enforcement action,” the CAA said.”

However, the AviationADR still shows Ryanair as being members.

Summer of 2018 sees Ryanair, CAA and AviationADR in a flying shame of failures.

Ryanair aeroplane in sky

Ryanair failures

The Summer of 2018, like the Summer before, has seen Ryanair failing passengers trying to get to weddings, funerals, business meetings and, of course, holidays. This year, it seems that Ryanair is even trying to beat last year’s number of cancellations.

In 2015 the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched enforcement action against Ryanair. This action followed a review by the regulator that found Ryanair was not complying fully with European consumer law designed to support passengers following flight disruption. Ryanair was required to make policy changes or face the prospect of further enforcement steps leading to court action, if the airline remained non-compliant. Whilst it may have made policy changes “on paper” it appears to continue to flaunt them.

In 2017 the CAA launched enforcement action against Ryanair for persistently misleading passengers with inaccurate information regarding their rights in respect of its recent cancellations. This was after Ryanair repeatedly said it would not offer compensation for cancelled flights. The same is happening again, and although the CAA has issued a statement saying that Ryanair should be paying compensation, it has so far fallen short of taking enforcement action.

AviationADR failures

 

There are six different schemes authorised by the CAA to deal with airline complaints.  AviationADR and CEDR are the two main alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers. AviationADR is the provider for Ryanair. So, those passengers not getting any joy from Ryanair could take their case to AviationADR. However…..

Which? articles

Earlier in the year Which? attempted to obtain the data on the number of complaints resolved by AviationADR and CEDR through a Freedom of Information Act request to the CAA. I requested the quarterly reports and was also refused. However, my FoI Internal Review request on this decision was successful. Which? reported Fewer than 500 Ryanair passengers awarded compensation by complaints body in 2017.

“AviationADR received over 3,600 EU261 complaints about Ryanair in 2017. Only 496 passengers were awarded compensation. The vast majority of complaints were still outstanding at the end of year. In the first quarter of 2018 AviationADR received over 2,400 flight delay and cancellation complaints about Ryanair. In this time 282 passengers were awarded compensation and 98 were told they were entitled to nothing, leaving thousands still waiting for a decision.

For the first quarter of 2018 the figures are even worse. AviationADR received over 2,400 flight delay and cancellation complaints about Ryanair. In the same period just 282 passengers were awarded compensation and 98 were told they were entitled to nothing, meaning thousands were still waiting for a decision.”

In addition, “Aviation ADR said that a ‘very large’ number of the remaining complaints were ‘put on hold’ because they had been submitted by claims-management companies, who are in dispute with Ryanair. It said: ‘Given the ongoing litigation between (claims solicitor) Bott & Co and Ryanair… the claims management companies have agreed that these claims should be put on hold pending the final outcome of the court case.’

Bott & Co doesn’t accept that it has ‘agreed’ that the claims should be put on hold. It says, ‘we felt that the claims should be looked at, however Aviation ADR have currently refused to do so, because Ryanair won’t deal with claims presented by solicitors.’ It confirmed that it had made about 100 claims through Aviation ADR in 2017, ‘but we never got a response on any of them.’ It also said that it had another 10,000 complaints it had been planning to send, ‘but they told us to wait because they wouldn’t consider the claims whilst Bott & Co v Ryanair was ongoing.’

Which? has previously raised concerns about AviationADR in Passengers still having to fight for flight delay compensation. This article outlined that The Retail Ombudsman (Details of reasons for the name change from TRO to various others can be found at The Retail Ombudsman is no more) was:

  • Committing an offence by even calling itself an ombudsman.
  • Wrongly implied in its 2015 annual report that Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as many other retailers, were members of its ADR scheme.
  • Allowed to call itself an ombudsman for more than a year by the Ombudsman Association (OA) before investigating. THE OA later issued a statement that The Retail Ombudsman ‘did not meet the OA’s membership criteria for independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness and transparency, and accountability’.

The Independent article

The Independent reported on AviationADR where a wrong decision had been made advising a passenger to claim against the airline with which she flew when Ryanair cancelled her flight. Not only that, it incorrectly advised her to claim against that airline, rather than against Ryanair! The airline was also an AviationADR member, so it would have been paid twice for essentially the same complaint!

Omnishambles reports

The two reports I co-authored with Marcus Williamson, ceoemail.com Editor, on the oversight of Ombudsmen and ADR providers, Ombudsman Omnishambles (OO) and More Ombudsman Omnishambles (MOO), heavily criticised the approval of Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited (CDRL), the company that runs the AviationADR scheme.

Delays in payment

Air India customer, Mukhtiar, is having problems getting the airline to pay the compensation he is owed.  He was told on 21 February 2018 that AviationADR had ordered Air India to pay up on his case but he’s still yet to receive anything. On the 26 June 2018 Mukhtiar asked AviationADR for an update. AviationADR said “I can confirm however that we are seeking further assistance from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) regarding this matter.” This begs the question: if AviationADR has to refer to the CAA for an issue of non-payment, just how effective is it? Six months later, as of 20 August 2018, Mukhtiar still does not have his money.

A spokesperson for the CAA said:

“The CAA maintains a regular dialogue with the UK ADR providers and is aware of only a relatively small number of cases of late payment of awards. The CAA itself receives a handful of complaints from consumers about late payment of awards. In the CAA’s view, this does not indicate that there is a systematic issue with the timeliness of the payment of awards resulting from ADR decisions. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Ryanair comment regarding ADR

Ryanair was asked for the number of customers who have been paid out through AviationADR decisions and how many where the customer has come direct and Ryanair has made a decision in the customer’s favour. It was also asked how many cases for compensation it received in 2017and how many of those it awarded compensation and how many went to ADR. Ryanair said “We don’t break down our data on claims to that extent.”

Strike action

As regards the strike action, a spokesperson from Ryanair said “With regards to EU261 compensation for cancellations arising from strikes, our position has not changed: “Ryanair complies fully with EU261 legislation, under which no compensation is payable to customers when the (strike) delay/cancellation is beyond the airline’s control. If these strikes, by a tiny minority of Ryanair pilots, were within Ryanair’s control, there would have been no strikes and no cancellations.”

When asked for a comment regarding the strikes by cabin crew Ryanair refused to provide a comment.

The European Court of Justice ruled in the case of Helga Krüsemann and Others v TUIfly GmbH case, that a strike by the company’s employees are not “extraordinary circumstances”.

CAA monitoring of ADR schemes

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said:  “The ADR Regulations, which set out the rules to which approved ADR bodies must adhere, specifies that ADR providers must reach their decisions within 90 days from the receipt of the complete case file – and to report each year on the average time taken to resolve complaints. For the year up to March 2018, the two ADR providers reported an average time of 65 days to reach a decision, well below the 90 day threshold. We are aware that a small number of complaints do exceed the 90 day threshold, and indeed we receive a handful of complaints ourselves from consumers who have experienced a delay in their complaint being decided. We will continue to monitor this issue and to work with the ADR providers to ensure that complaints are dealt with in a timely manner.”

It is important to note, “90 days from the receipt of the complete case file”. This means that an airline could hold up the case indefinitely by never sending required documents! As far as the CAA is concerned the providers are doing ok even if an airline takes 5 months to send information!

A spokesperson for the CAA said:

“The CAA maintains a regular dialogue with the UK ADR providers and is aware of only a relatively small number of cases go over the 90 day time limit. The CAA itself receives a handful of complaints from consumers about the timeliness of ADR decision making. In the CAA’s view, this does not indicate that there is a systematic issue with the timeliness of ADR decision making. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Trying to gain examples of monitoring has proven difficult. The CAA has been given copies of both the OO and MOO report and is aware of the OA and Which? criticism but has continued to approve AviationADR.

In February of this year the CAA said that  the average rate for consumer complaints being upheld by CEDR was 89% and for AviationADR  71%

If you have used ADR and not been paid out, contact the CAA  CEO.

What if you do not want to use AviationADR?

Having read the articles and documents you may not want to use AviationADR, so what do you do?

Do you need to show you have used ADR before you can go to court?

The Pre-Action Conduct guide, published by the Department of Justice, explains the conduct and steps courts would normally expect parties to take before commencing proceedings for particular types of civil claims.

This conduct states that litigation should be a last resort. The defendant and complainant should consider whether negotiation or ADR might enable them to settle their dispute without commencing proceedings. They should consider the possibility of reaching a settlement at all times throughout the process.

The court may decide that one or more parties (claimant or defendant) has failed to comply if s/he has unreasonably refused to use a form of ADR, or failed to respond to an invitation to do so.

If there has been a non-compliance that is not materially important then there’s no need for the court to do anything. But if there has been a non-compliance the court could pause or stop the proceedings until the party fulfils its duty under the pre-action conduct/practice direction. It is possible that if a claimant hasn’t tried ADR, the court could stop the case proceeding any further until the parties have used an ADR provider. The court could also apply sanctions.

The sanctions that could be applied (for any non-compliance with the protocol) cover the financial implications. The party at fault for non-compliance may have to pay the cost of proceedings, or part of the cost to the other party. This could be on an indemnity basis (which means that it might not be proportionate). If the claimant has been awarded money s/he may be awarded less interest than otherwise may have been the case. (If the defendant is at fault, s/he may be awarded a higher rate

I am not aware of any cases where someone has received sanctions as described above for not undertaking ADR. I would think the suitability of the ADR provider could provide grounds for your refusing to use that route.

Don’t be tempted into using a claims company either. they aren’t going to be able to do anything you can’t. See ECJ ruling on flight delays: Consumer champion warns against third-party claim firms

Possible reasons for putting forward the case not to use ADR

The wording in the protocol clearly states that ADR should be considered. It does not say it must be taken. The Which? articles, the article in The Independent and the two reports go into a lot of detail about failures, delays in dealing with complaints, mistakes etc. It should be easily possible to argue that you have considered ADR in this case but for the following reasons:

1)    Details of the Which? articles

2)    Details of The Independent article

3)    The points from OO report that relate to AviationADR (The Retail Ombudsman/CDRL)

4)    The summary of the financial history of Dean Dunham’s companies provided in the MOO report

5)    The list of points in the MOO report which relate to AviationADR

6)    The minutes from the Ombudsman Association (reproduced in the MOO report) that show that CDRL lack the credentials to provide quality ADR.

7)    Examples of AviationADR not enforcing decisions to make airlines pay. Small claims court process made simple gives you an outline of what you need to know about the process.

I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice. I give help and guidance and the above is just my opinion. However, I believe a court will understand if you feel that AviationADR would be unable to deal with your case satisfactorily, given the background information shown here!

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…

Look East interviews Ryanair CCO and Helen Dewdney

LookEast Evening and Late News 23/08/18. Two interviews with me regarding the current situation and one with the Ryanair Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien. Looks at strikes, rights, bounced cheques and baggage issues.

Further advice and help regarding holidays

What to do when your flight is delayed or cancelled – the full guide

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights