New consumer ombudsman service launched- but is it toothless?

13 August 2015

shopping-trolleysHere at Bitterwallet we're a big fan of Ombudsmen- after all, it's a source of further redress if your complaint to the service or product provider hits a dead end. Now, a new service called the consumer ombudsman has launched whose remit seems to be practically anything you can buy.

You may have noticed a glut of new ombudsmen springing up recently- this is all down to impending rules from Europe mean that every sector must have a so-called "alternative dispute resolution body" that is officially approved to investigate complaints. This means that we need an ombudsman in every sector by October 2015. At the start of this year The Retail Ombudsman was launched to a deluge of complaints, but it was set up by a concerned individual. The Civil Aviation Authority is funding an aviation ombudsman that will be launched soon, and we have a number of others covering random things like furniture (the furniture ombudsman, obvs).

According to Ombudsman Services research, across all industry types, people made 66 million complaints to businesses about products and services last year, which works out at one complaint every 1.2 seconds. Npower was recently told to give people free energy after dragging their heels over Ombudsman complaints- customers were left waiting for up to 20 months over complaints, which mostly revolved around billing issues.

But while, until this year and the advent of the TRO, supermarket and online shoppers had nowhere to go other than small claims court, there are now concerns that people may be confused by multiple ombudsmen cropping up in any one sector. Retail complaints, for example, could now be dealt with by either the retail or consumer ombudsman.

"There's definitely a risk of confusion for consumers," said chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith, who overseeds the new consumer service, ading that "Britain is unique in telling the market to provide an ombudsman, rather than setting one up that's officially approved by the state." The new consumer ombudsman is backed by an official consumer organisation, the Trading Standards Institute, although its power has yet to be tested.

Mr Shand-Smith, naturally reckons that Ombudsman Services, which was contacted by 216,000 people last year, has the best resources, such as a call centre and in-house legal experts, to investigate consumer complaints. However, the new consumer ombudsman's decisions are not legally-binding on retailers and firms unless they agree to join. This is because it is not a public body, unlike the Financial Ombudsman, which was set up by parliament.

So far, no shops have publicly announced they are signed up.

Companies which sign up to the consumer ombudsman will have pay an annual subscription and a fee every time the ombudsman considers a complaint, which is at least £45 per customer. Or they could not join and not pay and disgruntled customers will not have so much scope to pursue complaints. It's a tricky one.

TOPICS:   World News   Economy

3 comments

  • Jessie J.
    Another waste of time. Bang Bang all over you.
  • Alan F.
    I used this service because it was supposedly independent when in fact it was paid for by the Company I complained about BT? They refused to ask for evidence of a tel.call from the company on which a huge cancellation charge was based and I had to use a Sars request to find out they hadn't a record! They made no reference to these facts in their review and refused to make any comment on the cancellation charge despite fining,sorry suggesting a remedy/goodwill payt of 150 pds for 3 months service where all services had been disconnected twice. These goodwill payts were not made by BT and I was told by Ombuds. they were not manadatory and could not be enforced?? BT persisted in pursuing canc. charge to which I eventually told them they could take me to court and I would defend it on the basis of this ruling-they didn't pursue. Complained about service didn't have a review carried out by a Senior manager as required so complained to the Independent assessor(who I believed was there to make sure the service was fit for purpose). He promptly told me he couldn't comment on any aspects of my case other than the service issues. I thought well okay and he proceeded to look at the times only correspondence was dealt with rather than the service itself and offered me 75 pds. This I accepted without prejudice and he the Independent assessor promptly stepped down from his role!! In addition despite asking for "my papers" back which I had forwarded for the review the have refused to return them saying I must make a SARs request. As these are "my paper"and belong to me the SARs procedure does not apply and there refusal to return my papers prevents me form taking this to a small claims court which I am sure they no doubt know. All in all not a good sign for customers getting a fair hearing with these services and basically fobbed off and the complaint effectively expunged.
  • elisagrace

    I do not think so. If the Ombudsman is legally qualified, he will certainly take right decision. I can share my experience with you. Being the user of BT broadband since last 6 years. Three months back It was running slow and  I tried all the modes to correct it but the problem was not solved. I called BT customer service number and they sent the lineman to correct the fault. After checking he told me  that he'll come in evening. But his evening never came . Inspite of  continuously reminding  customer service I never received any positive response. When I received the bill it was more than the normal. I again contacted the BT customer service and they connected my phone to their technical manager. I apprised him all the situation and his reply was that it due to my fault that broadband was running slow. They  had even send the lineman. He did'nt heard me. And now the last option available to me was to take the legal action against them. I availed the services  of financial Ombudsman and after hearing all the matter he decided the matter in my favor and told the BT to refund the excess amount. I was totally satisfied with his answer. 

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