Whilst an Ombudsman is a key part of the ADR landscape, there are certain features of an Ombudsman scheme that differentiates it from other ADR models. This is particularly the case in private sector schemes which offer a genuine alternative to court action.
An Ombudsman’s remit is wider than the dispute before it and whilst all ADR schemes offer dispute resolution, an Ombudsman has been held out as a “gold-plated service”.[i]
In addition to the dispute, however, an ombudsman has a role to improve standards in the sector under its jurisdiction by providing feedback, training and to identify themes. Ultimately, therefore the Ombudsman model works with businesses to prevent harms before they arise making the dispute resolution function ideally redundant.
Another key difference is the inquisitorial approach that an ombudsman takes. Not just considering the evidence before it, an ombudsman will seek that which is missing and assist the parties to gather the evidence they need to support their claim. In the case of vulnerable consumers, this can place an Ombudsman in a uniquely valuable space in the eyes of stakeholders such as CTSI [whose role is xxxxx].
When considering a case, an Ombudsman will have regard to the relevant law. However, to remain effective, it may also consider other non-legal factors that might reasonably be taken into account when deciding the outcome of a case. This means that Ombudsman decisions can have regard to what is fair and reasonable; practical and proportionate, going above what the law may prescribe to resolve a claim to the satisfaction of the parties.
For example, in the furniture industry, reselections or store credits are often used as a tool to resolve a consumer’s dissatisfaction with the particular product, offering a more convenient and pragmatic resolution for the consumer which also enables the business to retain business and its customer’s confidence in it.
In a voluntary sector such as the furniture industry, membership of an ombudsman scheme enables a business to differentiate. Not only can it resolve disputes in a cheaper, quicker more flexible way which is advantageous to both the business and the consumer, but it can also take advantage of complaints data, feedback and thematic recognition of issues across the sector to raise its standards, enhancing reputation and trust.
The work that an ombudsman does in each individual sector gives it a unique perspective and thereby a voice with policy makers and legislative consultations.
All accredited ADR providers must meet the same minimum criteria as prescribed by their Competent Authority. For example, our Ombudsman is approved by CTSI to provide ADR under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumers Regulations 2015. In addition, an Ombudsman must be validated by the Ombudsman Association and have permission from Companies House to use this protected name and, as such, it must also meet additional criteria which are laid down by the Ombudsman Association, thus adding additional layers of external scrutiny.
[i] APPG on Consumer Protection Report from the Ombudsman Inquiry January 2019 Volume I: Report
Author: John Ludlow Secretariat to the APPG on Consumer Protection