Rail Ombudsman is finally coming down the tracks – consultation closing soon

Press release

Background
Rail passengers will soon get their long-awaited Rail Ombudsman, an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme for disgruntled railway users across the country. An Ombudsman provides an independent escalation process, beyond the railway company, to make decisions on passenger complaints.

 

 

 

Consultation closing soon
The Office of Rail and Road has said that it will introduce an ADR scheme in the rail sector. As this will require changes to rail companies’ Complaints Handling Procedures (CHPs), it is consulting on these changes. The Rail Delivery Group , (working with others as part of an Ombudsman Task Force, has developed proposals which they envisage will see an ADR scheme for rail passengers introduced on a voluntary basis in early 2018.

The consultation on this important issue closes on the 7 November 2017. Yet there has been no coverage in the media nor any push from Government to ensure the general public see this and are given a chance to respond. Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer expert and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! welcomes the consultation but is dismayed at the lack of coverage. “Nearly every commuter has had reason to complain about at least one train journey in recent years! But at the moment very few even know their rights never mind how to take their complaints further!”

Current situation
In 2013 Transport Focus found that almost nine in 10 of passengers eligible for compensation for delays, did not claim. In 2016 it spoke to over 7000 passengers and found that the number claiming compensation has increased to 35 per cent in 2016. The research shows how few people are claiming what they are owed.

Dewdney says that there are other legal rights for complaints in the rail sector but even fewer people are aware of these than those around delays.

“The rail companies all have a passenger charter which links to the National Rail Network guidelines. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was applied to rail travel from 1st October 2016. You are now entitled to services which must be carried out with reasonable skill and care. If they are not then you should be able to gain redress. Things for which you may gain redress under this Act are:

  • overcrowding
  • not able to use a booked seat
  • claim for consequential losses

If you complain and you think the response is unsatisfactory you can take the matter further. If your journey was outside London then you go through Transport Focus For London and surrounding areas (including those on London Underground or London Overground) contact the London Travel Watch  but decisions made by them are not binding on the rail companies.

Proposed scheme
The proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme would be binding on the rail companies that joined. This means they would be obliged to act upon the ombudsman’s decision.

Marcus Williamson the editor of consumer information website CEOemail.com, who
has been monitoring private ADR schemes since 2014, said “If a Rail Ombudsman is to be effective it must be truly independent and its performance closely monitored by Government. Those running it should have passed a ‘fit and proper person’ test and be fully accountable to the public, as well as to the rail companies.”

Williamson and Dewdney wrote the June 2016 report “Ombudsman Omnishambles” where a number of issues were highlighted regarding the regulation of Ombudsmen. They are concerned that whilst these issues have still not been addressed or resolved by the relevant regulatory bodies, the proposed Rail Ombudsman system could mean that consumers are put at risk again.

What can be done to rectify it?

  • A “Fit and proper person” test, as already required in many business and public sector environments, should be introduced for the trusted “Ombudsman” role and  ADR providers.
  • Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) must implement ongoing monitoring of ADR bodies, rather than rely on an annual review. This should include checking that statements made in the media are true and that the company’s accounts properly reflect the ombudsman’s performance.
  • CTSI, Department for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy (BEIS) or Ombudsman Association (OA) should provide a means by which the public can lodge complaints about ADR providers and develop procedures by which the relevant body can take the necessary action.
  • The rail ADR/ombudsmen schemes must be established appropriately, effectively and properly.
  • It should be compulsory for rail companies to join the ADR/ombudsman scheme.

ENDS

Update 08 February 2018. Changes to complaints handling guidance – decision letter and the consultation responses.

Further reading for information on misleading consumers, business and the failure of the regulatory bodies:

Ombudsman Omnishambles: New report exposes serious failings in ombudsman approval and oversight

http://CEOemail.com/ombudsman-omnishambles.pdf

The Ombudsman Omnishambles continues… Even on Conflict Resolution Day…

Ongoing Ombudsman Omnishambles

The Retail Ombudsman is no more

ORR Response to consultation by Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney

 

 

 

Government hushes up critical consumer and trading standards reports

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has recently released two reports: “Consumer Empowerment Survey Report” and “The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times“. Neither report was given any press announcement or further comment from BIS ministers or other staff.

Consumer Empowerment Survey Report

This 95 page research study, carried out by GfK NOP Social Research, was designed to gain a better understanding of the attitudes of groups of consumers, and to build a stronger picture about their characteristics and engagement levels: particularly those consumers in vulnerable situations and/or on low incomes.

This report was finalised on the 15th March but not released by government until the 18th March. This was Budget Day. The report was given no press release or other coverage.

The report states that “…the market also requires empowered, active and informed consumers in order to flourish. Only then will the full benefits of competition – which include lower prices, greater innovation, efficiency and growth – be unlocked.

There is strong evidence that many consumers do not engage fully in their transactions;….. Whatever the barrier, it is the least engaged groups of consumers that are likely to miss out on the best deals, overpay for basic services, or even get ripped off”.

The report found that 57% of those surveyed said they felt very confident about making complaints post-purchase, but that only 32% were confident that the law would protect them.

A recent survey showed that fewer than 45% of people in the UK use their consumer rights and that only 7% said they know their legal rights well and use them regularly.

I’m not surprised by these findings of course, People frequently ask me about their legal rights, sometimes having heard of the Sale and Supply of Goods Act and may even know that items have to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time. But they have no idea how long “a reasonable length of time” is, or if they are entitled to a full refund or just a repair for example.

All these surveys and evidence show that a minority of the public know and assert their legal rights. People also cite time and effort as factors too. It takes more time and effort than it should, often because companies fob off the customer, so even the customers who have a passing knowledge of the Law don’t get the redress they are legally owed. Evidenced last week, when someone on Twitter was having trouble with a certain electrical goods retailer and their line on refund, repairs and replacement policy. When I joined in the conversation to help, the retailer blocked me! But Go to AO.com that’s what I say. Price match and if something goes wrong they deal with it properly and don’t try and fob you off. High praise indeed from me, yes!

The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times

The second report, “The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times” is dated February 2015, is 145 pages long has 6 recommendations and was released on the 20th March, again with little to no coverage.

The report explored the impact of budget cuts to local trading standards and tested the efficiency of services across the country. It said that changes had led to “a relatively weak, and probably diminishing, profile of trading standards, both within the public eye and within the local authority context.”

The loss of skills, knowledge expertise and the diminishing of these services in protecting consumers can only mean one thing. Increase in bad practice and decrease in protection for the consumer. The report even talks about staff who, in their own time carry out investigations because they feel it so important. Yet again the government relying on people’s good well to provide good services because decent people feel they have to do the extra. If they were treated better perhaps they would do more because they wanted rather than felt they had to. Bet that sounds familiar to NHS staff.

Timings 

It is incredible that the government commissions, at great expense these two reports and then appears to ignore them. One shows how little people know about their consumer rights and the other discusses the impact of cuts in Trading Standards, the reduction in inspections and support for the consumer with increasing bad practices in companies as Trading Standards struggles to undertake the necessary proactive work.