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Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks to The Complaining Cow

I talk with former CEO of Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Leon Livermore, in a series of exclusive interviews. In the first one we discussed his achievements and challenges at CTSI. In the second we spoke about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the criticisms of CTSI regarding monitoring and approval of providers. Today we discuss his criticisms of Government and what should be done.

Leon in his kitchen

Leon Livermore’s Criticisms of Government

In the Ombudsman Omnishambles reports, BEIS was heavily criticised for its “soft touch” and not doing enough to improve the ADR landscape. So, I asked Leon what his criticism of BEIS would be. He spoke more of Government as a whole rather than BEIS per se. He was then on a bit of a roll! He names the criticisms as:

  • A lack of clear coherent consumer strategy across Government
  • There’s a lack of proper joined up regulatory strategy across Government. He gave the example of horsemeat and although a consumer protection issue they were told that technically it is a food issue and they couldn’t talk to the Consumer Minister about it. He called for the Consumer Minister to work across government. “So yes, you might have to deal with many departments but let’s have the Consumer Minister actually being a Consumer Minister being that clear and responsible person where every single issue related to the consumer goes through that.”
  • “They need to stop throwing things at Local Government” The CTSI obtained all the pieces of legislation from the Chambers of Commerce. There were 256 pieces of legislation, the majority of which had come in since austerity. “Stop it. Stop that”. He calls for the Government to be honest and say that they are giving a statutory framework and not statutory duties. He calls on the Government to be honest about not being able to enforce it all.
  • Lastly, he wants the Government to stop shying away from difficult conversations. With a problem in how the country tackles enforcement, Leon looks at enforcement through product, place and people. Place, local government look at licensing if it happens in an area but most consumer protection is not like that anymore.
  • He uses Whirlpool again as an example of a elongated and complicated supply chain issue that is not restricted to product. The horsemeat issue wasn’t even in this country but the UK was a victim of food fraud. He points out that the wrong place to intervene in the market surveillance and customer safety is in shops but the resources go to the local level and criminals can easily cross boundaries.

What does Leon think should be done?

Leon acknowledges that we won’t get structural reform but has told the UK Government that it often advises a lot of countries on regulatory reform and regulatory structures but has have never advised any country to have a system like ours! You can’t have accountability for something like Whirlpool remaining with a poor council. “Stick the funding and accountability centrally and the delivery locally”, he says. This of course makes sense when you look at how consumers shopping habits and the development of businesses have changed. Believing this model to start to make sense, he wants the funding to be apportioned appropriately.

He wants this to come through in the Consumer Command Paper but does not want it to be lost in the cry for localism. Decisions should be made at a local level because, as he rightly points out, you wouldn’t want a Parish Council making decisions about a motorway but they do decide on footpaths. This is an area he believes that strong leadership is needed (like many others I would say!).

Few cases are taken to court because of the funding structure, we talked about the most recent one being the Birmingham Trading Standards and the Tesco strawberries! Local authorities just can’t take the legal action and it should be done centrally.

In short, there is a mechanism for working with local Trading Standards, so let’s use it.

He talked at length about how this could work and interestingly said that it was not about funding, they are used to funding go up and down but the “abject failure to set out a coherent strategy that says this is what we want to see from consumer protection and this is what we want to see from our regulators locally and nationally delivering on that.”

Former CTSI CEO discusses what his criticisms of Government are in relation to consumer protection

 

The priorities for consumers

Leon questions the priority given to consumers. It was four years ago that Leon gave evidence in Parliament about consumer protection post EU exit and three years that we had the Green Paper but we still hadn’t hadn’t had the Command Paper at the time of the interview. The announcement was released today, the  Covid aside, and making allowances for it, we are all consumers, we all spend money. Informed and confident consumers are really good for the economy.

This is underpinned by high quality information, businesses who know and understand their obligations, transparency in the system and really good quality regulation and principle based.

Having met regulators from other countries Leon believes that ours are amongst the best, the skills and competence we have are excellent. But it is just incumbent on the political senior leadership of this country to give it direction. This is what we want the system to look like, this is what we want it to deliver and this is the resource we will put into it. You as the deliverers are responsible for delivering it but it needs to be clear.

Leon can forsee another Whirlpool, Grenfell or horsemeat scandal if the strategy is not got right, so Trading Standards can’t intervene.

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore talks about the lack of priority for the consumer

 

Any advice for the new CTSI CEO?

Leon says simply that he should be in his own person and enjoy the role which has such a good social purpose with an excellent team.

He advises John Herriman, his successor, to use all the expertise and support around him. He even conceded that people like me who “moan at us but moan for the right reasons” are helpful to the CTSI cause. Although, I prefer the words “complain” and “challenge”!

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore provides some advice for his successor

 

And just what did Leon think of The Complaining Cow?

Having been a thorn in Leon’s side for a number of years, the question had to be asked… what did he really think?

Well, he never opened my emails on the way home and always waited until the morning! That amused me. But he said that, as a CEO, he didn’t want people to tell him he was right when he was wrong and wants people who don’t let go! He says that we need people like me “Who cut the crap!”

Leon strongly believes that with me as a passionate campaigner and him as a pragmatist that there will be an opportunity to change things and that we would not be far apart in what we want to see happen.

Saying the same thing but in different ways! Who knew?!

Although we still differ on some things in ADR!

Whilst at CTSI, former CEO Leon Livermore tells Helen Dewdney what he really thought of her...

 

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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.

Mannequins clothes on in shop text The retail Ombudsman is no more

 

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.

Statistics to show Ombudsmen are not bias

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).

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

ADR updates

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 ombudsman

For help with a complaint

See Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

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

 

 

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Helen Dewdney expert in her field logos of TV and radio

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