Ombudsman services are a lifeline if you’re struggling to solve a dispute, but what happens when you can’t find one to deal with your issue? A new report reveals some severe gaps in the help that’s available.
Have you ever had a dispute with an overseas trader and not known where to turn for help? Or had a dispute with a UK trader only to find that the only place to get your case heard was in court?
If your answer is yes, it seems you’re not alone. A recent study commissioned by the European Parliament has identified several sectoral and geographical “gaps” in the provision of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) – a category that ombudsmen services fall into.
How do ombudsmen work?
Ombudsmen enable consumers to solve disputes with traders or service providers without having to go to court. In the UK most regulated sectors (e.g. energy, telecommunications, and financial services) have one.
So, if you have a problem with your bank and haven’t been able to solve it directly with them you can file a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). It will investigate your case and, if it decides that the bank’s acted wrongly, it will contact the bank and order it to put things right.
The decision is binding on the part of bank. You, on the other hand, can choose to reject the decision by FOS and go to court instead.
Narrowing the ombudsman gap
But the situation becomes trickier if you have a dispute with a trader in a sector that doesn’t have an ombudsman or with a business outside the UK.
In the latter case (and if the business is in another EU member state) you can contact the UK European Consumer Centre or the Financial Dispute Resolution Network which will forward your complaint to the relevant ADR scheme, provided that it exists.
When it comes to disputes with traders, you will most likely have to use a mediation scheme or the court system to solve your dispute.
So what’s happening about these gaps that have been identified? Well the European Commission is looking into how they can be narrowed and is expected to put forward legislative proposals in November. And, of course, we’ll be engaging with policymakers to ensure that these proposals improve the situation for UK consumers.
Have you ever used an ombudsman service to solve a dispute? Or been in a situation where there was no ombudsman to turn to? Do you avoid buying goods outside the UK because you’re unsure about who to approach if something goes wrong?