A new report, released today by consumer campaigners Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney, exposes serious failings in the processes by which new ombudsmen are approved and overseen.
Since 1 October 2015 a new privatised system of ombudsmen is available for consumer complaints in areas such as retail and aviation. Consumers expect an ombudsman to be independent, open & transparent and to abide by the rules of its trade body.
However, the organisations responsible for appointing and overseeing the ombudsmen appear to be taking a “light touch” approach to the new privatised ombudsman sector.
Among the findings of the report:
* The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) does not carry out basic “fit and proper” person tests before approving ombudsmen, their staff and contractors.
* One ombudsman has a convicted criminal as its “Director of Communications”.
* The same ombudsman is not abiding by Ombudsman Association rules on independence or on openness & transparency. In particular, the company is running an “accredited retailer” programme in parallel with having the ombudsman role and refuses to provide a list of the retailers which are its members.
Yet, despite these serious issues, there has been no action taken so far by the CTSI, Ombudsman Association (OA) or Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Marcus Williamson, Editor of the consumer information website CEOemail.com, says:
“We recommend that the Ombudsman Association, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the Civil Aviation Authority must now take urgent action to examine and resolve the issues outlined in this report, before the ombudsman system is brought into disrepute.“
I was on Rip Off Britain. Luckily not live but unluckily not with the hair and make up lady working miracles like she did when I was on BBC Breakfast! 🙁 (If it is now after the programme and you’ve found your way to this site after seeing me, thanks!) Welcome to my blog full of (occasional rants), redress, refunds and results.
I’ll say now of course that they edited out all the best bits of me where I was very witty, charming, pleasant and gave loads of splendid advice.
So for those of you new here, I thought it might be useful just to give you some links to various posts you may find helpful and may have been hoping to find when you got here rather than the drivel you’ve just read.
As well as posts aimed at informing people about their consumer rights, the blog is full of stories of effective complaining, just take a look around. But for now I just give you Tesco. Now! There are a lot of Tesco posts on here and if you put Tesco into the search thingy on the right lots of posts will come up. In fact, my very first post was about Tesco and that gives you links to all the other posts. (I particularly like all the comments which I do believe has helped the blog’s Google ranking for when you put in “Tesco complaints”. Contact details, MSE site, then my post. Well I think it is funny!) But for now you might like the fact that I took them to court and won. And no I am not the reason they have the financial problems that they do, although I did predict they would have problems because Clarke didn’t listen to customers. All the Tesco posts are listed here.
Social media Youtube channel – links to various radio and tv appearances, videos of me providing info on tips on effective complaining. (Also a few clips on a surgery with Iain Duncan Smith where I took him to task a bit, to no avail but I do believe in effective complaining rather than just moaning, I tried). You can subscribe to my channel there too. Twitter – follow me here for top tip tweets, rants and general chit chat Facebook – please like my page for various updates and join in the rants, questions, funny pictures or links of the day from me. 🙂
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My experience with The Complainers
Well The Complainers filmed me. Lovely Tom and Jon came to film me and said they would be back to film updates to the stories and film me with the blog and stuff! I’m probably old enough to be Tom’s mother but should you ever be filmed by Dragonfly (they made The Hotel – hilarious, and One Born Every Minute so a great company) ask for him, he is very very easy on the eye! 🙂 They asked to be kept informed and that was that. I kept them informed, the researcher seemed interested in the workshops and community radio I was doing, all more interesting than filming someone emailing and said she’d ‘phone on the Monday. Then I was on the BBC….. Then it all went quiet. I joked that perhaps Channel 4 may not like showing someone who had been on the BBC! It became clear that despite more interesting things to film, like having my carpet cleaned courtesy of The Body Shop and updates to stories, workshops and radio, Dragonfly didn’t contact me. After a few months I was curious why and emailed. Jon replied “We had a bit of a change of direction after we met you so it became more about longstanding complaints within the utility sphere and then it got more focussed from there. Certainly I hope when you see the documentary that our episode wouldn’t have been the right fit for your endeavours, even though both Tom and myself had a fantastic time coming to meet you.”
Hmm, I took long standing to mean longstanding. My complaint with Virgin that they filmed had reached the point of CISAS and that has to be 8 weeks before you can do that. I thought all my stories re Tesco showed that I often picked on them. But then we saw the first episode and things became clearer.
The first episode
I thought that this would be interesting. See things from the other side and how Transport for London deal with complaints. Although we didn’t see that. We saw abuse sent through Twitter which is nothing to do with complaining. We saw Traffic Droid, giving out red cards to road users who in his opinion were not abiding by the rules, and by others’ opinion, putting others in danger. I’m not certain as I got so bored watching the programme. The Telegraph summed it up in a good review. An opportunity to show what happens in call centres but we didn’t see one complaint being handled. There must be hundreds of complaints about transport but did we see any? No. Far too much of one person, even in the name of entertainment was he really the only “character” they could find? So if you were watching in the hope of finding out how to complain about delayed trains this is what you need.
The second episode
Councils. Well this will be full of “characters” I thought. Even if we don’t see complaints being resolved. Nope. Just a few yet again. Ridiculous, there must have been loads to choose from. An extreme complainer – no sign of complaining about consumer issues or asserting legal rights. At least I think in this episode we did see a couple of call centre staff answer a call and resolve a complaint.
The third episode
Well apparently this is the one I would have been in. And there it was the reason I was not used. Fair enough. Yep, “My endeavours were not a good fit”. No wonder Tom and Jon wanted to come back to my house and have me cook for them! They must have liked coming to my house, it was clean and they happily drank tea, ate biscuits and had a glass of wine. But I am polite (well, when I write complaining to companies) assertive and use the Law. At least the programme was extreme enough for people who don’t complain to realise that this is not the way to do it and hopefully see that not everyone sees a complaint as an “opportunity”. Shame about the stereotyping too for 2 of the characters, although moving your stuff via a nicked shopping trolley did make me laugh Ian 🙂
Well, I can see why I wasn’t used! Although I write (I’m reliably informed) a useful and entertaining blog and give good free advice on social media I’m not sad/loony/desperate enough to go looking for complaints or continue on and on with the same complaint (having got it resolved in the first place). I named the insect in the Tesco rice Phillip after the CEO and I had a hammer which I was tenderising chicken with while I slated the Tesco CEO. It amused Jon and Tom at the time but I think that as time progressed and the powers that be decided they wanted extreme complainers (as opposed to people complaining and asserting their legal rights) it would have been used if I had gone to the Tesco offices with insect and hammer in hand demanding to see Clarke!
I loathe the term “serial complainer” and “professional complainer” both are ridiculous terms and don’t reflect what many other people and I do which is to complain effectively. We don’t go looking for complaints or continue complaining when a matter is resolved. But the people reflected in this programme were not just asserting their legal rights or righting wrongs. A better title for the programme would have been “Extreme Complainers”. Then that would have truly reflected the programme. As it was, it was disappointing as we didn’t see how best to complain or how complaints were dealt with. Should you want to know how to make complaints effectively then I talk about tips:
So all in all, I was of course a bit gutted that I wasn’t filmed more and shown as it would have been great PR for the blog. If I didn’t write this blog I wouldn’t have wanted to appear so perhaps that’s another difference between your average complainer and an extreme one. I was filmed for Ripped Off Britain last week, so looks like I’m more of a BBC gal! Tell you what these director chappies are really very nice although you should shave off the beard Iain, it doesn’t suit we need to see more of your face 🙂 I also think that directors are like police officers, all getting younger and making you feel old!
But the real shame is that such an opportunity to inform people was missed in an effort to “entertain”. But if they were wanting people to talk about it like Benefits Street the commissioners or whomever made the decisions to change the focus from genuine complaints and looking at how complaints are dealt with to showing extreme complainers were misguided. Reviews have been poor, characters were limited and people don’t care enough. Benefits come from our taxes, we generally care how our taxes are used and it is an issue which gets people worked up. You are either a complainer or you aren’t. One isn’t going to get worked up about how someone fills their time when it does not affect them personally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a need/opportunity for a programme on how people complain without being an extreme complainer and without having to resort to media programmes like Watchdog to take up cases. Sadly, The Complainers did not fill that gap.
What did you think of The Complainers?
If you want to be an effective complainer and always get redress, then buy the book!
I love going to court. Odd as it may sound. If it has got to that stage because the other party has annoyed me that much it is a pleasure to carry out that threat “If I am not fully satisfied with your response I will seek redress in the Small Claims Court.” Companies think you won’t bother or in the case of Tesco just ignore you. I go to court when I’m pretty certain I’m going to win because a Law has clearly been broken and in the case of Tesco the other party has simply not done what it said in black and white it would do. You can’t get much nearer to being 100% sure you are going to win! But people are using this process less and less and this number is expected to fall given the changes.
The Observer Wot I was In On Sunday I was in The Observer in an article about Small Claims Court fees going up. (If you are here having read the article then you might be looking for the Tesco court story. You’ll find that here, the update here the end here, my first post about Tesco here some fun with Tesco here and here, another story here and reasons why you should not let companies to get away with even tiny amounts of money here with another Tesco story to come in the next couple of weeks! 🙂 )
Not sure what I think of all this media coverage for just carrying out my mantra “It’s the principle of the thing”. BBC did hair and make up and the radio no-one sees me so that has a preference over the paper I think! Although you never know what the paper will actually say of course so in a way just as nerve racking as live stuff! Harriet Meyer was lovely and the photographer Antonio Olmos, well considering I can’t have been nearly as interesting or quite as frightening as most of the stuff he does he was very nice to me. Well other than refusing to Photoshop my picture because he is a professional and my son being disappointed when he went to the door knowing that “Antonio” was coming that he wasn’t actually Gold Power Ranger. The Bull and I were quite pleased with how the kitchen looked!
So, the fees?
In yet another blow to consumers, the Government after having slashed legal aid has now increased the costs for the Small Claims Court. Find them here. (I’ve noticed that many money websites have not been ahead of the game and although the fees go up today (22nd April) have not updated their sites. So be warned follow that link for accurate information as it is the Court site! Update court fees went up again in 2015.
What will this mean for consumers?
The (in my opinion) wrong decision has been made as is often typical on short sighted thinking. Costs of running the court go up so lets put fees up. But, as The Observer reported cases going to court “…slumped by more than 50% in the past five years, with 29,577 hearings in 2013, compared to 53,248 in 2007. So just watch the cases going to court continue to drop as people don’t risk the higher fees. It’s false economy. Increasing fees does not encourage anyone to use the services so it is bad news for consumers and probably staff because watch the redundancies follow as not as many staff are needed.
For cases over £1000 the costs are rising significantly. It is a sliding scale depending on how much you are claiming and for claims ranging from £3,000 to £5,000, there is a near doubling of the fee to £205. It is obvious, at least to me that this will put people off going to court.
There is help for people on low incomes etc. But get through a 32 page document first!
Not a lot. With Trading Standards budgets slashed consumers are left more vulnerable and that is a postcode lottery again. Contacting them is a possibility. Citizen’s Advice, again budgets slashed so they are limited in what they can do. Mediation is a cheaper alternative worth considering.
You have the Financial Ombudsman for financial products, free service but still takes time and CISAS for member telecom companies. I have used both (as you would expect). Won both times with FO and with CISAS against Virgin. The second time with Virgin and CISAS the complaint was partially upheld. I believe that the mot recent one (judgement in last few weeks) was only partially upheld due to appalling administration. I may write up a post about this. But for now be warned make sure you have everything as you want it when you send it through. Despite forms saying that you CAN add to evidence and directing staff to that form and quoting it you may get refused, like I did even though it was sent just five minutes after the ‘phone call saying it was ready. The adjudication is probably fair and timely but getting it there can be stressful. I found it far more stressful than taking Tesco to court due to the inefficiency. There are other ombudsman services covering various sectors.
Do everything you can to avoid going to court. Don’t physically or verbally threaten. Write following these Top 20 Tips. Do some Internet searching on the individual or company and see what other people have done, any CCJs against them already to help you make a decision. (Small charge)
What to consider if thinking of going to court
1) It takes ages. From start to court hearing was 6 months. The process is relatively simple but not always completely clear and changes, so don’t be caught out if you have been through the process before.
2) If, like me you are thinking of taking a large organisation like Tesco to court the chances of you being paid when you win are of course high. I really wanted to not be paid in time so I could send the bailiffs in and I didn’t get paid but it was just the usual poor internal communication. 🙁 But seriously, if you take a rip off builder to court for example, consider the chances of being paid, the potential further costs of enforcing the judgement, and the builder going bankrupt.
3) Whether you can take on further stress knowing that the whole process will take 6 months and a fair bit of your time putting evidence together and undertaking the court paperwork. (I did not find the court paperwork cumbersome but putting evidence together can be).
4) The likelihood of winning.
Tips for going to court
You have looked through all the Small Claims Court information and have decided to proceed. So how best to do it?
1) Be objective don’t use any emotive language.
2) Be polite and precise.
3) When using appendices (I had numerous!) number them and refer to each piece by the number in the explanation in order. Make it easy for the judge.
4) Clearly demonstrate how the Law has been broken e.g. “The photo of item in appendix x shows described fault..”
5) Use good English!
6) Check deadlines for court processes.
7) Check and double check through your paperwork and unless you are absolutely sure it makes perfect sense, get someone to check through for you.
8) Make sure you use the online process, it is cheaper.
9) When at court be respectful and allow for them running late!
10) Don’t forget to claim for court fees and any out of pocket expenses for going to court.
Well, a few minutes on Breakfast TV was fun. I’d had a little brush with the media a few weeks before that. So now it’s all over here you go!
I complain. Effectively. Apparently this is quite unusual. Well it shouldn’t be, I’m doing my best to get people to complain! But over a few weeks I had a little media interest. Quite exciting really given that I set up the blog as a hobby and a laugh!
The lovely Charlotte, producer from Radio 5 found me on Google and asked me to be an “Expert” on Complaining on their Phil Williams Radio Show. What a laugh! People ‘phoning me up and asking advice. They loved the Tesco and other stories so all set to talk about them. Oddly though, only 3 ‘phone calls. The first was from a woman who sent back an item abroad. She got her money back but that is not something I would advise. Ever. Your contract is with the company you bought the item from, not the manufacturer. The second call was from someone saying that I shouldn’t be advising people to take to social media and being rude. Took the wind out of his sails by saying I agreed that people shouldn’t be rude….! The third call not put through to me was from someone who had got his money back by threatening the people in the shop with bailiffs! Shocked that they put this call through! It is certainly NOT what I would recommend and is wholly unnecessary! So all in all an interesting experience, not really what I was expecting and it was a shame that I gave so few tips and didn’t share any stories, but hey ho!
Allhallows Community Radio
Now this was fun. Never mind the grand BBC or whatever! This was community radio at its most enjoyable. Well it was for me and I hope Marty! Marty invited me to come and chat to him on Allhallows Community Radio (ACR) in Kent. We just chatted with a bit of music thrown in! I honestly thought we had been on air for an hour and it was two! Time flies when you are having fun! The radio station was the first (and currently only!) organisation to receive a “Good Service” certificate from The Complaining Cow. Here’s Matt holding it!
In My Opinion
The local paper produced by the local council asked me to write for the “In My Opinion” column that they have each fortnight (for me it was to coincide with National Consumer Week). Where someone from the community writes about something, their work or whatever. So I struggled. Obviously. Writing about my opinion isn’t something I do much is it?! Thought, might as well, might get a few followers on Twitter and likes on Facebook.
One Facebook like and no followers (as far as I could work out) on Twitter. Which just goes to show that the article was either rubbish (don’t think it was, there were SOME good tips in there and the person who gave me the like told me the article was good!) or no-one really reads it!
Then a Channel 4 documentary team contacted me! Now, that was REALLY exciting! DragonflyTV (makers of “One Born Every Minute” and “The Hotel” and loads of other stuff!) Found me on Google (I do all my own SEO you know!) They rung me on the Thursday and were at my house the next day! I had a few complaints that had to be done and the researcher said to me “Don’t do anything until we get there!” Hilarious! What was even funnier was that they were here for 4 hours and I had more complaints to do and forgot a few when I was telling them what I had done! Very lovely crew of two. Tom and Jon. Lovely boys. Yes boys. The Bull thought they were about 12 years old. I would say perhaps a little older than that! I did think before they turned up that I’d be seeing a couple of cocky “Look at us from the award winning media company” blokes that I would have to take down a peg or two! Couldn’t have been further from the truth. Very early on I said to Jon “Oh you are very tall aren’t you?” as I stood next to him. What an incredibly stupid thing to say. Seriously. Stupid. Now, we all know if I had been him I would have said “No you are hallucinating I am actually 3ft 5. But no, he smiled politely and said “Yes I am”. How did I repay this courtesy? I was preparing chicken and he asked “Is that going in the oven” to which I replied “No, we are going to eat it raw!” He said he thought it might have gone in a frying pan. Hmmm ok, a little large but fair enough! Had to apologise then! My mother would have adopted these two by the end of the day. Such lovely manners and we all know how important they are! Their mothers must be proud of them. I’m putting in a disclaimer here though, if they actually use anything of me and I can’t set foot in Tesco again then I will take all this back, they are ‘orrible!
Not impressed that the crew wouldn’t do what the BBC did for me though! So if I am on the Channel 4 programme I will look old, haggered and a mess with grey roots!
The Bull shouted from another room as the evening approached “Have you killed them yet?” I needed the camera at that point. Tom’s face was a picture!
My favourite line from Tom was when I asked about something I was saying and whether it was ok. “Our legal people will be all over this don’t worry” Stuff that I say and do? Really? Yup! So if you want to know what I was complaining and talking about you’ll have to watch in April won’t you?! If they don’t use me, well they will be good belated blog posts then ‘cos the story is a funny one!
So who knows if I’ll get my two minutes of fame or if I’ve scared them off (doesn’t look like they are coming back so looks like I have!) but here’s hoping that if I haven’t that I haven’t made a complete fool of myself?! What do you think?