Get to know the arbitrators!
The 8 October 2020 is International Ombuds Day. The second Thursday of every October its aim is to raise awareness of what an Ombudsman does.
What is an ombudsman?
An Ombudsman is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider. You may use an Ombudsman to arbitrate in cases where a business and you are in dispute. An Ombudsman adjudicates and makes a decision which is binding on the trader. (The trader loses membership if it doesn’t abide by the rules but this rare). It is not binding on you but should you not agree and want to take the matter to court. The Ombudsman is impartial and cannot side with the business nor with the consumer.
There are other different forms of ADR which include arbitration, mediation/conciliation and negotiation.
When should I use an Ombudsman?
You can try other avenues first. See 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively. For example, you can contact the CEO using ceoemail.com to get the details. Write to the CEO, who may not respond personally, but it will escalate the matter and get their dedicated executive team involved. If you have purchased an item costing more than £100 on a credit card you can try to make a Section 75 claim from your credit card provider, which is jointly liable with the seller. Or you can go to the Small Claims Court. You will need to show that you have considered ADR prior to having your case heard.
Service providers in the regulated sectors, such as those in energy (Ofgem), communications (Ofcom) and financial services (FCA) must sign up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. In most cases this is an Ombudsman.
In the non-regulated areas, such as providers of goods and services, it is not mandatory for businesses to be a member of an ADR scheme. However, many are and it can be part of the reason for purchasing from a certain company. For example, if you want to make a large home purchase knowing if they are a member of The Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman you have somewhere to go if something goes wrong. Same with buying a car from member of The Motor Ombudsman.
Costs of using an Ombudsman
It does not cost you anything to take your complaint to the ombudsman. It is worth remembering that it DOES cost the business both in a yearly fee and per case that is processed. That means it is in the interest of the business to always try to resolve the matter before it goes to an ombudsman.
All providers in the non-regulated sector are funded by their 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 from public funds.
The Ombudsman process
In general, the complainant has a year in which to bring a claim and can do this 8 weeks from when a complaint was started or when a “deadlock letter” is received. A deadlock letter is requested from the provider stating that they will no longer correspond on the matter.
The differences between an Ombudsman and an ADR provider
To be an Ombudsman the organisation must be a member of the Ombudsman Association and meet a strict set of standards. An ADR provider essentially provides the same service but has lower standards.
There are some problems in the ADR/Ombudsman sector
There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are mainly to do with the oversight by their approval bodies and are highlighted in my articles Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to the reports Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles.
Useful related posts
Top 20 Tips for how to complain effectively
5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted – a post that tackles misconceptions about an Ombudsman.
Why use the Financial Ombudsman? – Director of General Casework describes why and at what point you should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier – the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services shares the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their claim. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors
Ask the Ombudsman: Kevin Grix CEO Dispute Resolution Ombudsman & The Furniture Ombudsman – a post looking at what this Ombudsman does with tips on preventing problems when you shop.