/ Consumer Rights

Have you used an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme?

Have you used mediation, ombudsmans or other ADR schemes to resolve a complaint? Tell us about your experience.

If you’ve received an online purchase that didn’t meet its description, your builder left you with a botched home improvement project or you’ve suffered a dodgy car repair, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may be able to help you get redress.

ADR schemes exist to help consumers and businesses resolve a dispute without going to court. The service is usually free of charge and the decision should be binding on the company. Ombudsman schemes are a type of ADR that offer a more enhanced service.

Finding an ADR scheme

There are a lot of ADR schemes out there, but companies are only required to use the process in a few regulated sectors – in other sectors it’s voluntary. The number of schemes and voluntary membership can make it difficult for consumers to find the right scheme for their complaint. 

ADR schemes are available to resolve disputes in retail, home improvement, car sales and repairs, water, energy, financial services, rail, air travel and package holidays, to name just a few.

Of course the decision doesn’t always go the consumer’s way, but if you have a genuine complaint ADR should be able to help.

Read our Consumer Rights guidance on ADR schemes

What’s your experience?

We’ve heard from consumers who have had good experiences where the dispute has been settled quickly, as well as some shocking examples involving long delays and companies that didn’t comply with the final decision.

If you’ve used an ADR scheme, we’d like to hear about your experience 

Have you struggled to find an ADR scheme to handle your dispute? Or, has a company refused to use ADR to resolve a dispute?

Have you had a good experience of using ADR? Was the ADR process easy to follow or were you constantly having to chase?

How do you think the process could be improved for others who may have similar issues? 

Comments

I used the Financial Ombudsman to resolve a dispute with a life assurance company after my husband died.

The life assurance company refused to honour the whole payment, arguing that they had not been supplied accurate information and the premium we had been charged was too low by, say, 25%. They reduced the payment by the same percentage.

My complaint was quite specific and related to whether or not they’d used the information we’d provided correctly when taking out the policy. They didn’t uphold my complaint so I went to the ombudsman.

They were completely useless. Despite saying they’re impartial I was told that they ‘always assume that a company’s terms and conditions are lawful and reasonable’ and simply adjudicate as to whether a company has acted within their T&Cs. They sided with the life assurance company.

Interestingly some months later the life assurance company contacted me and said that they’d been audited by a third party and one of the claims they’d reviewed was mine. The third party deemed the premium uplift to be far too much and therefore the reduction in payment was similarly too great. I was given many tens of thousands of pounds extra as a result of this.

Kelvin John Evans says:
15 October 2021

I have used the ombudsman service, found them to be far from independent. Complaining about serious errors from Doctors and or hospitals also are met by a very one sided argument from PALS, which appear to be a doctors defence organization! Not fit for purpose.

Wow. Sorry to hear that. I’m in the process of using the Ombudsman service complaining about my previous GP practice. Previously complained to PALS who did nothing but accept the complaint whilst messing me about. Proof given but nothing done by PALS which I as a previous Health & Social Care manager feel are not fit for purpose, nor are they transparent. As for the governing body, I think they’re a waste of time too.

The Patient Advice and Liaison Services [PALS] is not a dispute resolution service.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is the statutory body for investigating complaints about the National Health Service — https://www.ombudsman.org.uk

Not a great experience. No Internet and phone for over 2 months, so complained to the company and the ombudsman after the time limit passed. Ombudsman found in our favour but company complained that it was not part of the automatic compensation scheme. Ombudsman changed decision as they advised that company would not agree to original decision. But decision should be based on fairness. So had to go to court.

Also used Financial Ombudsman but not a good experience either. Barclays advised that mortgage protection was required to take out on a re mortgage. Found many yrs later this should not have been the case. Complained but Barclays said they used a financial advisor in their branches so they take no responsibility. Raised it with the ombudsman, they advised that it should be raised with the company and they provided details. I checked against the FCA register and the company was no longer authorised. I went back to the ombudsman and they advised that the system had not been updated and although this was at a Barclays branch they could not do anything. Surely Barclays have an agreement with the advisor and should bear some responsibility.

EnKay says:
14 October 2021

There was identity fraud undertaken and an account was opened in my name. I was chased by debt recovery agents. I advised them to provide proof in line with FCA consumer credit sourcebook rules 7.5 & 7.14. They were not forthcoming and advised they will close the matter. I asked for the information used that had been used to open the account so I could cancel the items. After several attempts there was no response. I raised it with the FOS, who took 6 months to say that a relationship with the company and myself did not exist so they cannot look into the complaint. I did not agree as my details had been used and this was reviewed by an Ombudsman who rules it is a complaint that the FOS can look at. A further 2 months and I am still awaiting any information/response from the FOS.

I lodged a complaint with the FOS about Aegon, but by the time they responded after 5 months, Aegon had settled my original complaint with them! I don’t know how effective the FOS is, but with that kind of delay, it’s even more frustrating than the original complaint!

I’ve tried contacting the rail ombudsman to complain about the outrageous EXclusion on the new trains only to be told they couldn’t deal with it so they passed my complaint on to transport focus who tried to help but were unable to so it now looks like the only course of action left will be the disability law service as the local mp won’t even answer any of my correspondence no matter how civilised I try to be or whatever the subject, and that’s blatant discrimination too, democracy here in England is supposed to be for all registered electors, not just whoever they prefer, we’re not under roman occupation any more, we don’t have “plebs” any more. And someone has got to deal with this appalling situation and get it out in the open and not let it remain hidden away out of sight and conveniently swept aside under the proverbial carpet, and it’s obvious that if I don’t no-one else will.

We recently went through the whole gamut of services provided by the so called ( non ) regulator OFWAT. In 2018 we used water on our Bowling Green during the drought of that summer. This amounted to 700 cubic metres at a cost approx of £2,100. We accepted that we owed for the water but since the water had gone on the Green but objected to the Sewerage Charges since the water has not gone into their Sewers. We were screwed by Waterplus and United Utilities working in concert . Waterplus being a company owned by United Utilities. We went to Consumer Council who said they could not deal with the complaint as they did not have the powers so we went to Water Redress. What a Farce. Our complaint was simply not heard since they ruled very conveniently that we could only complain about Waterplus and not United Utilities. All United Utilities have told us is that we did not have a water meter and they did not backdate, and that their decision is in line with their policy and that we were lying about the use of the water. None of our site except the rainwater from our clubhouse roof’s go into their sewers. So our Club house toilets, glass washers and domestic arrangements for the Stewards Flat are supposrd to have consumed the extra 700 cubic metres of water all in the space of 3 months in Summer. Beggars Belief!

I am surprised you do not have a water meter. How is your water consumption calculated and charged for?

Normally your waste water charge is calculated from your fresh water usage on the assumption it is returned for reprocessing via the sewers. If, as in your case, some does not (natural drainage or into a soakaway for example) you can claim a surface water drainage rebate from your water company; they will need information on your arrangements to decide a rebate. The rebate is not normally backdatable, although discretion can be used (I applied for it as gutter water went to soakaways, not the sewer, and had a 10 year backdated rebate).

https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/households/your-water-bill/surfacewaterdrainage/

We do have a water meter for water used on our premises. We are expected to have a separate water meter for the water used on the Green. All of this is superfluous as we have now installed a tank and water from our roof’s feeds into the tank and any overflow to soakaways. This now provides the water for the Green. All our drainpipes from our roof’s are now redirected from the United Utilities Sewers to soakaways on our Land. We have put in extra Trees and vegetation so the land will not be waterlogged. We are now having trouble getting our Rainwater rebanded, both Waterplus and United Utilities have refused so far.

This will not help in a drought, will it? As your storage tank would not be refilled from rainwater.
At my bowling club there were disputes on the value of watering too frequently. The green ran faster when it was dry, even though it did not look as nice as a green carpet. In Australia they use a different grass, I believe, that does not need water and they are fast greens, and fast means more interesting to play in my book.

The tank we had effectively put around 4mm of water on the green which does not penetrate very deep, thus encouraging roots to look to the surface for moisture where, if it is hot and dry, they can be killed or damaged. One school of thought was to avoid this and let the roots go down as far as possible to find moisture.

Grass is very difficult to kill, even in a drought, and once rain arrives revives very quickly.

I don’t know the best answer for bowling greens (or golf courses, where often only the greens are normally watered but the fairways survive). Should they look green and play normally, or look patchy, speed up and make play a little trickier? What is your view Malcolm?

You are right in that a drought will mean that once the tank is depleted we are back to square 1. However it does mean that some watering can be done when we reach the point of damage to the green. Recycling the Roof water does save us approaching £500 per year in Rain Water charges alone. 2018 was the only year since 2009/10 that we have needed to use Water in this way.

Water supplies are an odd utility that seems to have a completely different set of rules to others. To start with it is a monopoly operation which should mean it is subject to much stricter regulation than where competition is present.

The notion that 90% of the water supplied to households ends up going back into the sewerage system does not seem to have ever been challenged. We have, for historical reasons, such a mix of arrangements for dealing with surface water in this country that there cannot be any standard way of charging for its disposal and treatment. Most householders do not know how their surface water is drained away because it all goes underground, some into soakaways, some into surface water drainage pipes and main drains, some – wrongly – into the foul water sewers, some – rightly – into the sewers because there is no alternative, some percolates away, and a considerable amount just evaporates.

We use water to irrigate the garden but because that is not a separately metered supply it all gets dealt with as though it was consumed domestically and returned via the sewers; at a previous property with extensive gardens I did try to get a rebate for this but could not demonstrate the destinations or volumes involved. If the water companies could not recover their costs without charging for ‘amenity’ use they would have to increase the basic supply charges, and they are already high because consumers are also paying environmental charges for watercourse management, beach cleanliness, and flood prevention among other things.

I remember a time when the water bills were so low it was not worth worrying about them. Drainage and sewerage were also local government functions in those days and the costs for those services were lost in the overall municipal rates [when the services were transferred away from local councils to the new water authorities I did not notice any significant reduction in the municipal rates]. In some parts of the country there were also levies from various catchment authorities and drainage boards.

The situation has never been as straightforward as it is with most other utilities – even if you install a well or water wheel you have to get an abstraction licence [for depleting the local water resource] and then pay for the volumes extracted. Catching rainwater as it falls is the only way to get any free water, it seems, and that is not without its complications.

I am surprised bowling clubs are not metered separately for their ‘domestic’ supplies and for their irrigation requirements. Local authorities always seem to be exempt from restrictions on amenity land watering [flower beds, cricket fields, tennis courts, paddling ponds, etc] when drought orders are in place so there is an apparent inconsistency with the treatment of bowling clubs. It is possible also that the regulator and dispute resolution services are not empowered to adjudicate in such complaints, although if that were the case I would have expected them to have said so. Perhaps the whole issue is so complex and mired in historical anomalies that no one can get a grip on it – it just trickles away through their fingers and their eyes glaze over.