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Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks to Helen Dewdney Part 2

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.

Today we talk about his opinions on CTSI’s monitoring and approval of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). We explore the difficulties with implementing what he would have liked and what he would like to see happen.

Leon in his kitchenThe background to ADR criticism

Leon Livermore was the CEO of the CTSI for almost 8 years, until March 2021.

I’ve met him a few times at various events and sort of got on! I say “sort of” because over the years I co-wrote two research reports on Alternative Dispute Resolution. (ADR). The first was Ombudsman Omnishambles:  Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK . The second was More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on… These were were highly critical of the CTSI and of CAA in particular for their approval and monitoring of ADR schemes.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

ADR – did Leon let the bad guys in? What happened about “Fit and Proper” people running schemes and more?

Leon was talking about the good guys and letting the bad guys in in some areas. Which led me straight into asking if he let them in! (The reports referred to a number of providers that could be considered “bad guys” and Leon was referring to some providers and also companies that were members of providers.)

In 2015 the ADR regulations came into force.

Fit and proper person test

Leon stated that the regulations came into force when the EU membership vote was coming and that everything was “We don’t gold plate regulations”. So the EU ADR regulations were transposed as they were. He hopes that with the Consumer Command Paper that is expected soon, that there is a chance to put some things right. The Ombudsman Omnishambles reports discussed the need for a “Fit and Proper” person test.

He acknowledged that there was an opportunity to put some robustness in and that there is certainly something around a “fit and proper” test that should now be undertaken. I challenged him on the CTSI not putting this test in place, particularly when we first called for this in February 2016. He said that “…if it had been us, we would have put a fit and proper test in, let’s be very clear on that.”

Auditing ADR providers

“Auditing to a standard that was put in place centrally” meant that the CTSI was not able to do anything about the implementing “fit and proper person” or do anything arbitrarily he says. He would like to see a fit and proper person test implemented for both the organisation and individual people involved.

Pushed on how much input the CTSI had on this, Leon said that they “tried to work with the civil servants there”. Political policy was to transpose and not add anything. Although other countries did, and the opportunity was missed. When directly asked who put a stop to introducing a “fit and proper person” test when civil servants seemed keen, Leon was very clear that it was Parliament. It just went straight for the transposition. The opportunity was missed. He hopes that the Consumer Command Paper will give the opportunity to correct some of the issues.

Future for the fit and proper person test

I also asked Leon what he would recommend if a provider that was already approved then failed the “fit and proper person” test. He replied “You can’t have an F&P test and then give authorisation to someone who isn’t fit and proper. But that needs to be balanced with an appropriate and graduated disciplinary process. So, the ultimate sanction would be revocation of approval and loss of “accreditation”. There would also need to build a safeguard of right of appeal. But you want to work through a process where you issue improvement notices etc.”

We observed here that it would make sense for both the ADR and Ombudsman systems to be working to the same standard to avoid any confusion for consumers.

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore talks about the need for a fit & proper person test in ADR provision

Differing standards for ADR providers

We spoke about the Ombudsman Association expelling a provider and the CTSI keeping the provider approved. Leon agreed that the OA standards were higher than CTSI’s. Although he referred to this as not unusual (for trade bodies and other sectors to have slightly higher standards in their own sector than in the public sector) he didn’t think it was acceptable.

Ombudsman Association standards compared with CTSI

He strongly believes that the “Fit and Proper Person” test within ADR should align with the “Fit and Proper Person” tests used by the OA and within the Codes scheme. He thinks that the Command Paper is an opportunity to achieve this. He would say the standard should be open to consultation but the OA standard sits above the competent authority’s.

For the Command Paper he would say that the OA had to be the standard but that there should be one standard across all schemes. This should be open to challenge and be consulted on. “It happens to be in this case that the OA’s standards sit higher than the CTSI and so it should be that one which is the starting point.”

I pushed Leon on whether there would have been providers that weren’t approved had the standards he’d wanted been in place. He said that there would have been audits that highlighted that they were sitting beneath the standards but would have had to be given a chance to raise their game, for fairness.

However, he also said “There were people who were signed off that wouldn’t have complied with the higher standards definitely”. Pushed on that therefore meaning that they would not have been signed off he argued that they wouldn’t have been submitted in the same form.

“There certainly would have been providers we would have had to do some work with to get them to the higher standard and we would have hoped to get them there”, he added.

Former CTSI CEO chats ADR standards with Helen Dewdney

 

Did the CTSI have sufficient powers for the approval and monitoring of ADR providers?

When asked if he felt that the CTSI wasn’t given enough powers to approve and monitor bodies, Leon said that it was interesting and the first answer was “Yes” but that there was an advantage to not having those powers.

This advantage meant that they had to get things agreed by consensus. So, that this has given a better working relationship with CTSI and providers. But he still thinks that “fit and proper”, mandating certain sectors and using trade associations are used in the best way for consumers and conflicts of interest that aren’t swayed in favour of businesses are essential for making improvements.

Asked directly if CTSI was stopped from putting in higher standards for ADR, Leon was quite clear. “Yes, because we were auditing to someone else’s standards.”

He accepted that the Ombudsman Association had higher standards than the CTSI and although he says it is not unusual for a trade body to have higher standards than those that sit in the public sector, he also doesn’t think it is acceptable and hopes that the Command Paper will provide the opportunity to address some of the shortcomings.

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore talks about powers and standards regarding ADR providers

Should ADR be mandatory?

Colleagues in the consumer world and I have been calling for ADR to be mandatory for years, so I asked Leon for his thoughts on this. Although he would like to see it mandatory across all sectors, he recognises that this is very unlikely to happen. He would, however, like to see it mandatory in the home improvement and motor sectors. His concern in those particular areas relates to the greater impact on people’s lives, so he would tend to prioritise the high value items.

More creatively, Leon wonders if we can work with all the sectors and bodies such as TrustMark to almost mandate ADR in the energy efficiency sector. This would work to drive up quality and consumer confidence. He sees this area as being one of the biggest challenges, and currently a “hidden” issue. It has to be Government policy driving it, he says, as consumer power will not achieve it.

Consumers and Vulnerability

Vulnerability plays a big part too, Leon believes. Almost anyone is vulnerable when they buy expensive items, such as a house, home improvement or car. These are the areas where there is an inbuilt vulnerability and Leon calls for a coherent Government strategy that emphasises their importance, so we cannot leave it to the market place.

With austerity coming, having to pay for the EU exit, Covid and an ageing population, businesses will cut corners having to make difficult choices.

“Where is the strategy?” Leon asks.

One of Leon’s biggest frustrations is the opportunity Government had with the EU exit in getting businesses and consumer groups in the same room to talk about what the issues are. He talks more about this in the video:

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore discusses making ADR mandatory with Helen Dewdney

 

Did anyone really understand the ADR regulations?

I asked Leon if he thought consumers understood the ADR regulations and he said that he didn’t even think that the regulators and business understood them!

Regarding businesses, Leon talked about having to accept that the regulatory bodies would have to set their standards lower than they would want. This is because it would be better to have the businesses inside a scheme. Giving the example of the Property Ombudsman, he praised their work, saying that it included some businesses CTSI  would never like but that it was better for them to be inside a scheme, so that their standards could be improved.

He noted that to only use enforcement at that bottom end is really expensive.

Not alone in raising concerns

Acknowledging that I was not alone in sending concerns to the CTSI, Leon said that there would be something to assess providers against if the standards are right. Not only would he like to get the standards for provider approval and monitoring right, he would also like to acquire the ability for people to challenge it.

He asks whether people like myself and Which? should have the ability to make a “super complaint”. This is so we can say that we don’t believe that a provider is giving good enough service. Which? amongst other consumer bodies already does have powers to make a super complaint in the consumer world. More about making a super complaint here. I think it unlikely that individual consumer champions will be given the same powers!

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore discusses understanding of the ADR Regulations with Helen Dewdney

Are there too many ADR providers and what about that consumer portal?

Leon sees both sides but leans towards leaving it open to a number of providers to compete.

I challenged Leon on this, pointing out the confusion that consumers have already regarding ADR. It is made worse by the fact that some local Trading Standards cover ADR, they cover different sectors, others are sector based etc? A point covered in the reports. He agreed that it is confusing for consumers but suggests that Citizen’s Advice (CA) should be responsible for a portal that directs consumers to the different options available.

After pointing out that we suggested such a portal in our Ombudsman Omnishambles reports in 2015(!), I asked Leon what had happened to this? After firstly saying it was terrible that he found himself agreeing with me so much (hehehe) he blamed Government funding and policy.

However, he says that the only thing that is stopping this from happening now is organisations looking after what’s in their best interests and not the best interests of consumers. He feels quite strongly that the different providers, trade associations etc. are all competing and that they could all signpost to the one portal. Leon says CA has funding, it just needs the co-operation of providers and other organisations.

Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO discusses number of ADR providers & single portal with Helen Dewdney

Next time in the interview series

Look out for the next episode where Leon and I talk about his criticisms of Government, what should be done and priorities for consumers.

 

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Categories
ADR Ombudsman Business Latest News Transport

CMA steps in where the CAA fears to tread

CMA investigates and takes enforcement action

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be the regulator for air transport in the UK. However, it is increasingly clear that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is doing the CAA’s job for them.

During the course of this year the CMA has taken action against a number of companies which were not giving full refunds where they were owed due to coronavirus cancellations.

This includes: Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals in June, Bijou Weddings Group in September and yesterday (15 December) the announcement that following CMA action, LoveHolidays. The company had committed to pay out over £18 million to customers waiting for money back after their holidays were cancelled due to coronavirus.

CAA: A regulator that fails to regulate

In July the CAA reported on its airline refunds review. A number of airlines were found to be hugely failing in their legal duties and they gave commitments to the CAA to resolve the matters. For example, on 3 July, Ryanair published a set of commitments on its website about timescales for processing cash refunds.

Ryanair confirmed that 90% of its backlog would be cleared by the end of July 2020 with all refund claims made in April to be processed by 15 July and most of the claims made in May to be refunded by the end of July. This statement has not been updated and just a quick glance on Twitter and in Facebook groups dedicated to Ryanair complaints shows that Ryanair customers are still waiting for refunds.Ryanair aeroplane in sky Dean Dunham AviationADR CEDR

Commenting on the review, Richard Moriarty, CAA Chief Executive said: “The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers.

“There is still work to do. We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

However, the CAA has failed to take any further action, appearing to believe that no further action is required.

CAA defers but the CMA brings action

It would appear that the CMA disagrees. Today, 16 December, the CMA announced that it was investigating whether airlines have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take.

The CMA says “The investigation will consider situations where airlines continued to operate flights despite people being unable lawfully to travel for non-essential purposes in the UK or abroad, for example during the second lockdown in England in November.”

The CMA is aware that, in some cases where flights were not cancelled, customers were not offered refunds, even though they could not lawfully travel. Instead, many were offered the option to rebook or to receive a voucher.

How the CMA will work with the CAA

The CMA says that it will be working closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority as it progresses its investigation.  Its press release continues:

“While the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) leads on consumer protection in the airline sector, the CMA has undertaken extensive action in connection with cancellations and refunds during the pandemic and is well placed to support the CAA on these issues. The CMA and the CAA continue to work closely and share the same enforcement powers to tackle breaches of consumer protection law.

The CMA will now be writing to a number of airlines requiring information to understand more about their approaches to refunds for consumers prevented from flying by lockdown.

Following a careful analysis of this evidence, the CMA then will decide whether to launch enforcement action against individual airlines.”

CMA forced to act on airlines failures

It is quite clear that the CMA has had to step in and walk where the CAA fails to tread.

Paul Smith, Group Director of Consumers and Markets at the CAA, said :

“It is right that consumer rights are upheld throughout this period and we welcome this investigation from the CMA, which follows our review into airline refunds earlier this year. The CMA has been leading on a broad range of issues arising during the coronavirus pandemic and we will continue to work closely with the CMA in support of this investigation.”

This defensive stance from the CAA makes the regulator appear ridiculous. As the CMA states, it has the same enforcement powers as the CAA. But the CAA has done nothing to enforce anything since their review earlier this year. Airlines continue to flout the law and the CAA appears to have done nothing to ensure that airlines have kept to their June commitments.

CAA compared with other regulators

No other regulatory body needs another organisation to step in to support their enforcement work. The other regulators, such as Ofgem (Energy), Ofcom (Telecoms) or the Office of Rail and Road (Transport) are able to enforce the law themselves.

Future for the CAA and ADR

So, why does the CAA need help? Because it is ineffective and unwilling to take on the airlines face to face. Has CMA simply had enough of watching this farce unfold?

Hopefully this action by the CMA will shame the CAA into taking further action by itself.

It is the job of the Civil Aviation Authority to investigate airlines but it has continued to take no action. The CAA has told me in the past:

“Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required.”

However, time and time again it has not done so. The CAA has shown itself to be not fit for purpose. Instead it is finding in favour of airlines and continuing to allow them to behave illegally. The CAA has shown itself to be not fit for purpose. The CAA needs to use its enforcement powers to revoke airline operating licenses where airlines do not comply with the law.

Aeroplane in sky with clouds AviationADR Dean Dunham, CEDR, CAA

Further information:

A new Chairman started at the CAA on 1 August 2020. But unfortunately the new chair, Sir Stephen Hillier, has been ineffective in tackling airlines that are continuing to break the law on consumer refunds.

CAA launches consultation and tells no-one… launched a consultation on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) but didn’t tell any stakeholders, as Which? calls for a single Ombudsman in the sector.

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

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

More Ombudsman Omnishambles report which looked at approval and monitoring of ADR schemes and followed Ombudsman Omnishambles which looks at the failings of regulatory bodies, including the CAA.

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

Ryanair tops CAA refund complaints

Getting help for Coronavirus cancellation claims and shopping help and advice for getting refunds and redress