Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes

The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system for resolving consumer complaints is broken and in danger of collapse. This is one of the conclusions of a damning new report released today. The report reveals that Government bodies have not heeded the warnings of an earlier report and that regulators have been complicit in making the situation even worse.

Ombudsman Omnishambles The UK ADR landscape 20 months on...The report, “More Ombudsman Omnishambles – 20 months on“, written by consumer campaigners Helen Dewdney and Marcus Williamson, follows on from their June 2016 report that exposed serious failings in the UK ADR system.

The original report highlighted the failings of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Ombudsman Association (OA) in their approvals and oversight of organisations providing alternative dispute resolution for consumers and business.

In February 2018 the Government announced that it was seeking to reduce the number of ADR providers in property to one because of consumer confusion. Despite this, the CTSI continues to approve providers in all sectors, significantly complicating the situation for consumers. For example, South Yorkshire Trading Standards and Kent County Council have already been approved for ADR in retail sectors which are already well covered. In addition, the CTSI is failing to deal with one particular provider which was previously known as The Retail Ombudsman (Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited) and which continues to provide ADR services in a variety of sectors. (RetailADR, AviationADR, UtilitiesADR, CommsADR)

The report demonstrates how the CTSI and the CAA are not verifying information given by providers in their annual reports and in the media. In order for an ADR provider to be an Ombudsman, it must meet certain standards and be a member of the Ombudsman Association. The report highlights that the Ombudsman Association has higher standards for approving an ADR provider (see minutes in report). These include not accepting organisations which have poor governance and corporate control and which provide misleading information.

The authors of both reports, Marcus Williamson and Helen Dewdney, are appalled at what they have discovered during this research. Dewdney says “Consumers are confused by the whole ADR sector. Public money – and consumers’ time – is being wasted because of inadequate monitoring and the approval of organisations which shouldn’t be providing services to the public or which simply aren’t necessary.”

The new report makes a total of 13 recommendations. These include:

· ADR providers should all work towards the higher “Ombudsman” status.
· There should be no new entrants to an ADR sector which already has a
well-established and properly functioning scheme.
· Approval bodies should have access to case management systems to check figures
as part of annual reviews.
· Reviews and reports by ADR providers should all be verified by a chartered
· There should be a central portal which signposts consumers to the correct ADR
scheme, funded by the schemes, to reduce confusion for consumers.More Ombudsman Omnishambles crowds of people

About the authors
Helen Dewdney is “The Complaining Cow”, a consumer campaigner, author and broadcaster who blogs here She is the author of the consumer advice book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! 

Marcus Williamson is a journalist and campaigner with a background in the Information Technology sector. In 2010 he established the website which now helps more than 10,000 people every day to resolve consumer issues by escalating them to the individuals who can make a difference, the CEOs and MDs of companies and other organisations.

Credit card fee changes: The hidden impact on small businesses & consumers

Press release

Companies will no longer be able to charge fees for using credit cards, following the implementation of a new EU directive.

credit card

Since April 2013 traders have not been able to charge consumers fees that exceed the cost for using a particular method of payment. However, from 13 January 2018 companies will no longer be able to charge any fees for the use of credit or debit cards. This includes payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal, too. The change also applies to Government departments and local councils. So, for example, DVLA will no longer charge you a fee for paying by credit card when you renew your road tax.

(Be aware though, that although the Law covers the EU and therefore there should be no charges for credit card payments anywhere within it, the UK Government extended it to Paypal etc. So if using PayPal or similar then you will need to check with the country as to whether they also applied this extension.

Is this good news for consumers? Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! thinks so. (That’s me that is).

She asks “Who isn’t annoyed when they have to pay a fee for paying for their car tax or to Ryanair for booking their flight?” Dewdney is emphatic that traders have had long enough to know this change has been coming to be able to plan and not pass increases in costs to consumers. “That goes for those Government departments, too, so there should certainly not be an increase in council tax fees and road tax to cover the supposed ‘loss’, thank you very much!”

She adds “Used wisely, many people pay by credit cards to defer payment and also to get cashback rewards!”

Scrapping the credit card payment charge on picture of card reader

However, not everyone welcomes the changes. David Taylor, who blogs at Thinking Thrifty and runs a café, fears that with no charge it’ll encourage card payments even further for really small amounts. He is considering not taking credit card payments any more, admitting that he will lose some custom “but if that custom is making me a loss, ironically, I can’t afford the custom anyway.”

The Federation of Small Businesses believes that David is not alone saying “many small firms will struggle to absorb the costs associated with card payments”.

Not all small businesses agree though:

Richard Allen of Reflections Detailing – a car restorer – has never charged a fee for using credit cards. He says “It’s just a cost of doing business and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small cost. I didn’t know it was coming though. But actually it costs me more to handle cash in any case!” He notes that credit card transactions incur a fee of 2.389%, debit card transactions 0.495% and cash 2%. Every card transaction also has a 5p authorisation fee. No company ever charged for handling cash!”

Then there’s places like Just Each which had a 50p credit card  charge. They have had to scrap that and have introduced a 50p service charge for all transactions. Keep and eye out for those and come back here and tell us so we can have a rogue’s gallery!

The Taxman cometh
The HMRC has received criticism for abolishing credit card payments. A spokesperson for the HMRC said “We will no longer be accepting personal credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a credit card payment. It would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up this cost. There are a range of ways for people to pay us depending on the type of tax being paid, including debit cards, Direct Debit, Faster Payment and BACS.”

Dewdney believes that people should put money aside as they earn it to pay their tax. “However”, she argues, “for some people less able to plan financially, or who suddenly find themselves in a difficult financial situation, the short notice (announced a few weeks before Christmas and nowhere on the HMRC website) will be very unhelpful.”

If you are struggling to pay your tax see Debt Camel’s 10 things you should know if you can’t pay your tax bill

Open banking changes
The arguments for and against the banning of charges are only part of the bigger picture. The ban comes in on the same day as the introduction of Open Banking which could potentially bring greater benefits for consumers.

Sara Williams is a Citizen’s Advice advisor and UK Money Blogger of the Year 2017 for Debt Camel, covering debt and credit ratings. She says that large retailers may try to bypass the current payment mechanisms and provide payment apps directly to customers. “Getting rid of charges for using cards will be generally good for consumers.” But she warns consumers to “Look out for side-effects. Card companies may reduce their charges to business and cash back credit cards may disappear as a result.”

Seen a business charging the fee?
Complain! Obviously! Write in the first instance claiming the fee back if you have already paid it. Use the Top 20 Tips for effective complaining. You can also report the company to Trading Standards and let us know about in the comments below too!

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


For more information, guidance, advice, tips and templates on complaining effectively GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

What to do with the ghost of Christmas Present?

Have you received an unwanted present? What do you do now?

See Christmas presents, returns – your rights.  If you can’t ask the present giver for the receipt, or you don’t know where the item was bought and there is no way of returning the item you got for Christmas, what can you do with it?

Four money bloggers take a look at what you could do:

Helen Dewdney


Helen Dewdney The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide (that’s me that is!)


photo of Faith Archer



Faith Archer of Much More with Less


photo of Emily


Emily Rowley of A Thrifty Fox



photo of Hollie


Hollie Gregersen of Thrifty Mum



1) Regift – we bloggers say first, of course! But make a note of who gave it to you, so you don’t give it back! (Although my mother once gave a little book of friendship to someone. She even handwrote a message on the first page. the woman gave the book back to her with the page torn out! I kid you not!) Keep them with the bargains that you buy throughout the year as gifts for various people and events!

2) Recycle – (e.g. clothes bank) they also suggest.

3) Donate to charity – I like to donate unwanted items and there’s more than the obvious charity shop. Towels, duvets and bed linen can be donated to a homeless charity or pet rescue (many places won’t take duvets but pet rescues will take for making into dog beds!) Look at Freecycle too. There are 5,314 groups with 9,140,031 members around the world, and local to you. Run by volunteers it enables people to donate to local people who will give your item a loving home and keep things out of landfill as people find different uses for similar items!

4) Fundraisers – Donate for a tombola or raffle, such as your child’s school. All PTAs welcome good raffle prizes! If there are lots of small gifts suitable for children, consider keeping them for next year and making up a box for next year’s shoebox appeal.

5) Foodbanks – If not Christmassy and has a good “eat by” date on it, give to your local foodbank. Many are grateful for toiletries too. And don’t forget to donate to the foodbank throughout the year. Ideas of how to help at very low cost here.

6) Upcycle – Faith suggests using hampers as very useful storage boxes or bins, as examples.

7) Sell – Faith also recommends selling on auction sites or car boot as the item is, or upcycled to make more money! And to sell free of charges, try a garage sale, Facebook Marketplace/local groups or Gumtree. Zeek (that’s an affiliate link so if you use it and register at no cost then you and I should both get a payment!) is a marketplace website/app where gift cards can be bought and sold.  Sellers can set their own price and the bigger the discount, the faster the voucher sells. See Looking a Gift Card in the mouth? for more information about gift cards and what to look out for.

8) Rent – Faith adds that renting is growing in popularity. Some people are now hiring out a range of things, such as baby items, power tools and clothes. Look into doing it yourself or join in with existing budding entrepreneurs!

9) Council – Emma advises checking with your local council social services department, as many will redistribute toys to a toy library or homeware to a family in need.

10) Swap or swish – These are great, enthuses Hollie! This is where you can take good condition clothes and jewellery and swap. Organise an event yourself or search online to find a local one. Multi Coloured Swap Shop is back for adults!

Another idea: Perhaps this year is the year that you have a chat with people about reducing the present buying next time?!

Whirlpool/Hotpoint/Indesit shows contempt for tumble dryer customers

Press release

Dryer replacement scheme ends for Whirlpool/Hotpoint/Indesit users – Company updates list of affected machines without telling customers

Whirlpool has announced that it is ending its replacement scheme for dangerous tumble dryers that have caused fires.

With growing waiting lists for repairs, Whirlpool had previously offered customers the option of purchasing a new dryer at the reduced rate of £50. Customers had been given the option of a vented dryer priced at £59 (RRP £219) or a condenser dryer priced at £99 (RRP £299).

This latest move has angered consumer groups and the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee, Rachel Reeves, who has demanded to know why Whirlpool is ending its replacement scheme for dangerous tumble dryers.

A growing list of affected machines

Whilst Whirlpool continues to make customers wait for repairs, Helen Dewdney – The Complaining Cow consumer expert and author of How to Complain – has discovered that customers have found that they own machines they were initially told were not affected.

Whirlpool customer, Juliet Govey, saw the announcements in the media regarding the defective tumble dryers and checked the list. Her model was not listed. In 2017, when she needed a repair on her machine and called out a Hotpoint engineer, he realised the machine was on recall and made the necessary modifications on the spot. She says “His view was that we may well have been safe as we kept the filter, condenser and casing clean and as fluff free as possible. There was very little fluff behind the drum when it was dismantled. I think we were just lucky.”

On my post regarding what to do if you have an affected dryer, Jess commented that she had bought a Hotpoint dryer in early 2015. Late in the year the announcements were made about the hazards and she was advised to go online and check if affected and was told it was too new for the problems and was not one of the models. On renewing her house insurance this year she told them it was a safe one. A few weeks ago she smelt burning from the dryer and immediately unplugged it and pulled it out and called out a repair man. He said it needed a new belt which would be about £10. She asked him to fit it but when he checked the model he refused, saying he wouldn’t work on a ‘fire hazard’. Jess checked online again, and found that the machine had been added to the list. On contacting Hotpoint she was told that the list had been updated.

Check online to be sure

I’m urging anyone who bought their machine and was told that their machine was safe to check again online on the Indesit and Hotpoint safety sites (Creda owners can check via the Hotpoint site) to see if their machine has now been added. “It is shocking and reprehensible that Whirlpool seems to have such a poor regard for safety. Why haven’t they kept records of people who have contacted them and done more (or anything!) to raise awareness that models have been added to the list? This in conjunction with all the other evidence against them regarding their slapdash attitude beggars belief.”

Coroner’s report

This latest revelation follows on from the coroner’s report, published on 31 October 2017 into the deaths of Bernard Hender, 19, and Doug McTavish, 39, who died in a flat in Llanrwst, Conwy county, in October 2014. The coroner, David Lewis, said that the fire was caused “on the balance of probabilities” by an electrical fault with the door switch on the dryer. Describing the evidence presented at the inquest by Whirlpool as “defensive and dismissive” he stated the company’s approach was an “obstacle” to finding steps to prevent future fires. He called on the company to take action to prevent future fires. Whirlpool has until 26 December 2017 to respond.

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

Press release

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, 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.


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

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