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Have you ever gone to an ombudsman?

Complaining cartoon character

Where do you go when your complaint isn’t resolved? The ombudsman, of course! But how many of us use them? Here’s Helen Dewdney, also known as The Complaining Cow, raising awareness of ombudsmen.

Various surveys this year found that consumers are unsure about their rights. Some of those will go on to complain and some of those will be fobbed off by traders. Of those that continue to complain when things go wrong, very few will carry on to the Small Claims Court or ombudsman route.

With Small Claims Court fee rises this year many people will be discouraged from using that route. It is possible that ombudsmen will become more popular, but it is still the case that many people do not know of the various ones out there.

Here, of course, Which? readers will mostly be au fait with their rights and knowledge of ombudsmen, but what more can be done to inform people? Most of us have heard about the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and those that cover the communications industry. But I only found out recently that there is a Furniture Ombudsman! Who knew?

Ombudsman problems

There are of course issues with ombudsmen services. I’ve found using the FOS a very simple and easy process, but my complaints were basic and clear cut and should never have really reached the stage of the FOS. It still all took time though and I have heard from people who have been months and years battling with the FOS.

My experience using the communications ombudsman CISAS wasn’t good. I used it many years ago and it was fine, but this year I found that the administration was atrocious. Staff took weeks to reply to emails and in the meantime I was sending further information which they did not add to the submitted form. A very frustrating experience all round.

I’d be interested to hear others’ experience of using an ombudsman and thoughts on how services could be improved to make people more aware of them and ultimately to use them.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is by Helen Dewdney, author and blogger at The Complaining Cow. All opinions expressed here are Helen’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Richard says:
5 December 2020

I went to the energy ombudsman re the refusal of an energy company to accept that I did not have a contract with them and wanted to go to a cheaper alternative. Despite plenty of evidence that this was true the ombudsman found for the energy company. When I mentioned that I was going to complain to the ombudsman to one of the energy company’s employees he laughed for so long that I had to put the phone down on him!? Is there any evidence that anyone has ever been able to complain about the ombudsman’s behaviour and been successful?
It seems to me that the ombudsman service has been set up by government to fool us all into believing that we have recourse against company’s that ride rough shot over all the rules that are supposed to apply to them!

It would be interesting to know how independent ombudsman services are, since they are funded by business.

To quote from their website: “Ombudsman Services is free to consumers. We are funded by the fee a company that is signed up to our scheme pays to have each complaint reviewed. This covers the cost of us handling the case. This has no bearing on our decisions.”

I wonder if it might be worth contacting the regulator (Ofgem), Richard. In your position, perhaps you should pay the exit charges (often £30 per fuel) and leave your current supplier immediately. I hope you could then recover these charges.

Richard you are telling my story. My complaint with the ombudsman has been ongoing since July against NFU, a Which? top rated insurance company who have also been riding roughshod over all the rules.

I have now reached a stage whereby my car insurance premium is due for renewal on 11th December, which means, if I fail to get closure by then, I am left with no alternative other than to pay their inflationary premium imposed for a no fault accident that took place well over a year ago, otherwise I will be unable to continue to drive my car – an uncompetitive win win situation for the insurer.

The ombudsman is fully aware of this, and also the fact that whilst this complaint is still outstanding, another insurer will be reluctant to take me on. They have been dragging their heels for the last five months despite my full cooperation and compliance with all of their questions.

As the ombudsman service has a reciprocal vested interest with large corporate businesses it will automatically put their interests before any complainant who is left with little recourse over those companies who continue to operate in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of equality and justice.

It is quite reasonable that the costs of an ombudsman service in a particular sector is funded by those businesses it covers. The question to ask is whether the charges it makes on business are mandatory or whether, as in trade associations, the ombudsmen rely on the goodwill payments from business. In one case they would be independent, in the other somewhat dependent. I think before condemning them, as can be easy to allege with anything business related, someone who knows should explain. Perhaps Which? could provide a statement on this? @gmartin – George, could Which? comment?

Malcolm, The Competitive Act 1998 (the Act) prohibits anti-competitive agreements between businesses.

”Anti-competitive behaviour which may affect those within the UK is prohibited by Chapters I and II of the Competitive Act 1998. Discriminate between customers, for example charging different prices, or imposing terms where there is no difference in the circumstances of supply.”

If there are any anti-competitive arrangements between the ombudsman and NFU that will prevent me from switching to another insurer and keeps me tied to them indefinitely I need to know about it.

I will probably contact Which? Legal on Monday to establish my competitive consumer rights.

Richard says:
8 December 2020

This went on for a year and a half and due to the amount of stress I was under brought on a heart attack and it was touch and go whether I would live! I spent a month in hospital and could not work afterwards so eventually was forced to sell my previously viable business for £1!!!!
There was no one to help me through the process of putting my case to the so called ombudsman in the correct way and it was obvious to me that the other side had experts at this process working for them who had been speaking to the ombudsman on a regular basis. I wrote to the ombudsman and said I was very happy to speak to them if they let me know a time and a number that they would like me to call on but received no reply.
Another win for the big powerful corporation against the small business consumer.

Hi Richard, I am sorry to hear of your health problems and the loss of your business resulting from your unfortunate experience with the ombudsman.

On Tuesday 8th December I spent a good hour on the phone talking to an ombudsman adjudicator handling my case which was very enlightening. I was given an opportunity to discuss the way in which large insurance companies abuse the trust of people who are pressured into accepting their terms and conditions and the way in which they systematically interpret or modify those conditions to suit their own ends, also the way in which they will continue to drag a case along indefinitely, sometimes to the point of completely ignoring all correspondence until a customers premium is due for renewal and they are left with no choice other than to submit to their unyielding demands and inflationary increases and pay up.

This is just one example of how insurers rely on contributions from people whose lives wholly depend upon their services in order to function, and how they continue to make their money from unsuspecting customers in a very competitive market.

After explaining I was a regular contributor and involved with Which? the adjudicator seemed more interested to hear what I had to say. I questioned their means of funding and was told they do in fact solicit a charge from all members of their scheme,

“The ombudsman is funded by a compulsory industry levy and a £550 case fee charged to firms that receive more than 25 cases in a year.”
See: http://www.ftadviser.com – Ombudsman Costs Rise More Than 80% in Five Years.

I questioned the propensity for bias resulting from this charge but, as expected this was denied but I was offered the choice of taking my case to yet another senior adjudicator or to consider it closed. The whole conversation was recorded.

As my car insurance is due for renewal on Friday 11th December, coupled with my reluctance to contribute any more financially to The National Farmers Mutual Insurance Company for the appalling way in which they have handled my no fault case, I have made a decision to cancel my contract with them and move on.

I hope that Which? will take on board my above comments and reassess the way in which they rate these companies. In the final analysis, its not about offers and promises but more about the way in which they conduct those offers and promises when the occasion necessitates.

A compulsory industry levy is a good way to fund their ombudsman’s service. As they have no option but to pay I see no reason why there should be any suggestion of bias. However if evidence does illustrate bias we need to be told. Maybe Which? would comment.

Malcolm, wherever money is involved when supplying a service it’s quite normal to expect value for that money in return.

When it comes to the question of insurance however, the insurer, without any form of regulation, will automatically increase their premiums year on year to finance the ever increasing number of complaints against them and it’s their customers who end up paying the ombudsman’s levies. A win win situation every time for the insurer.

Nothing will ever change as long as this situation is allowed to continue in the insurers favour, unless it is first recognised, and then investigated by the FCA, which is where Which? with its influence and power could intervene and assist in the implementation of the changes necessary.

I’m sorry to read about the problems reported by Richard and Beryl. I have not needed to use an ombudsman service but I hope that this does not prevent going to court if the decision is considered unfair. As I said above, I don’t know how impartial an ombudsman is.

One of the achievements for consumers is that insurers are required to print the previous year’s premium on the renewal invitation. I’ve stopped using companies such as the AA and RAC that have been known to hike annual premiums by 40% even without a single claim.

As long as they are able to increase their fees unabated without any form of regulation it will continue Wavechange. With discouraging Brexit EU talks coming from Belgium we can expect a huge hike in the cost of living and without sufficient regulation for the service industries in particular, disposable incomes will shrink to worrying levels.

The money has to come from somewhere so if the insurers don’t fund the ombudsman the general public will through taxation.

What they say is
What does an ombudsman do?
Ombudsmen are independent, impartial and provide a free service. They investigate complaints that haven’t been solved by the organisation complained against. Ombudsmen investigate complaints when something has been handled badly or unfairly, making someone suffer as a result. This is sometimes called maladministration. Examples might include unreasonable delay, rudeness, failure to follow proper procedures, bias, knowingly giving advice which is misleading or inadequate, and refusing to answer reasonable questions.

When an ombudsman investigates a complaint he or she can either uphold (find it in the favour of the person who has complained) or not uphold it (find that the organisation complained about has not behaved wrongly). The ombudsman can usually recommend redress: a sort of compensation for what has gone wrong.

If there is evidence of any ombudsman service being biased it would be helpful to post it.

Beryl – Insurance companies are subject to regulation by the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority. I’m not in a position to judge how well this works. There are plenty of insurance companies and that is supposed to help the consumer by keeping down prices.

Malcolm – If ombudsman services are funded by companies the costs will be paid for by their customers or shareholders. As I said above I don’t know how independent our industry-funded ombudsmen are but I would be happier if ombudsman services were run independently, but still funded by the industry. I would not object to those who used ombudsman services contributing to the cost of providing these services where a claim was obviously vexatious or clearly unreasonable. Maybe the current ombudsman services do not examine cases in detail if these criteria apply.

I believe they are run independently but funded by the industry.

……… and the independent industry is ultimately funded by the consumer.

The ombudsman adjudicator was not particularly interested in any “unreasonable delay, rudeness or failure to follow proper procedures” Malcolm, as a decision was reached solely on the insurers failure to obtain the evidence I had provided. Without that evidence they considered the insurer had acted fairly and reasonably. It was only after I explained the unreasonable way in which they had handled my claim that I was awarded the added option of a referral to a more senior adjudicator to pursue my case further, which would tie me inexorably to NFU. It was a case of accept their decision or pursue my case further and was given until December 15th to decide.

Insurers view you as a victim and will play on that by continuously delaying the course of procedures until you either throw in the towel or worse, suffer the unfortunate life threatening health problems experienced by Richard.

I stressed the point to the adjudicator that, until failure to report an accident to the insurer became illegal, if I was unfortunate enough to be hit by another driver in a car park, or any other place with no witnesses present, I would not report the incident and I would pay for the repairs myself, which in this instance I did anyway. I would then keep my NCB and my premium would be unaffected. I would be prepared risk any comeback claims by the perpetrator.

In hindsight I would advise anyone in a similar situation to take their case directly to a solicitor for a no fault claim if you get no satisfaction from your insurance company.

Beryl – Did you obtain useful advice from Which? Legal in your present case?

Malcolm – I very much hope that ombudsman services are run independently but funded by the industry. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the cases rejected by ombudsmen are taken to court and the decision is in favour of the complainant. This information would give us an insight into how well the services are working.

I agree Wavechange. It definitely needs investigation.

I commiserate with Richard and Beryl having been down that route that feels like you are banging your head against a brick wall.

These ombudsman services really do need investigating.

Richard says:
11 December 2020

I have read somewhere that 60% of consumers who had used the ombudsman’s service considered them to be biased!!!
I am very happy for Which to have full and unfettered access to my complete file in this case, not to help me as it is to late for anyone to help me in my case but to try and put this disgraceful biased system to task and in front of the public.

Is this investigation of the FOS carried out by an ex-Which? employee?
https://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/files/3687/independent-review-2018.PDF

It certainly is. Richard Lloyd OBE has an interesting career. The review was published before he joined the board of the FCA.

He finds no evidence of systemic bias. It is understandable if you feel you have a case that you take to the ombudsman and they don’t find in your favour that you should not view them favourably.

The Financial Ombudsman Service were a waste of time for me when I took my complaint about a Norwich Union / Aviva savings plan to them. Bonuses started off at over £400 then dropped to £28 per year when I was continually told how well they were doing and telling me my final bonus rate was being increased, etc.

FOS said there was insufficient evidence to suggest the business had acted incorrectly. Unrecorded verbal conversations cannot be taken into account.

I posted some of the information here:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/pension-charges-overhaul-angela-eagle/#comment-1565384

As Malcolm has said, the recent review of the Financial Ombudsman Service has shown no systemic bias. That may well be true but it does not mean that individual cases like Richard’s and Beryl’s have been treated fairly.

I have never made use of the inexpensive advice from Which? Legal but I would do so if I had a dispute with an insurance company. I was unfairly treated 45 years ago when my insurance company treated an accident on a ‘knock for knock’ basis despite the fact that they had been told that the other party had admitted blame. Fortunately I was able to persuade the company that I was not at fault without legal advice.

Unfortunately it can happen to anyone who happens to be in the right place at the wrong time, as Wavechange makes the point.

I believe there has to be a reason why, when someone damages your vehicle and apologises for doing so, who exchanges the usual details at the scene of the accident and then fails to report it to his insurer and promptly disappears without trace for a full 2 months, leaving me, who followed all the necessary required procedures, to pick up the pieces, and when producing a potential witness, neither the insurer or the ombudsman were able to make any contact with them.

Unfortunately, without evidence the odds are shifted against you, it’s your word against theirs and you are left at the mercy of the insurer and/or the ombudsman who, in my case, was reluctant to take into account any mitigating circumstances.

I haven’t contacted Which? Legal yet Wavechange but I have cancelled my premium with NFU. I have the weekend to decide what my next mode of action will be. Any suggestions would be very welcome.

I don’t blame you cancelling with NFU Beryl.

It might be an idea to try a broker for a quote as they might be able to find you something cheaper if you explain what happened with NFU.

A-Plan are quite good although we are not with them for car insurance at the moment, just building and contents. I just negotiated a very good renewal with the AA so sticking with them again.

I would shop around, Beryl. It might be worth looking at your home insurer if they offer car insurance. My tip is to include breakdown cover in car insurance to avoid price hikes on the latter. I’ve done this a couple of times.

Many thanks alfa. I will need more vehicle insurance pretty soon or will need to contact the DVLA. The car is parked on private ground at present, but will need to be garaged if I don’t drive it soon. I have made a note of A-Plan and the AA. There are so many to choose from these days, so welcome any recommendations so shorten the process.

My home insurance is with John Lewis underwritten by Royal Sun Alliance Wavechange.

I have just been checking Which? Best Buy Car Insurance write ups and I don’t recognise any of NFUs Comprehensive Cover Claims.

For example: Legal Expenses: These are extremely hard to come by as they will do everything they can to avert court action, even to the point of ignoring all your pleas of clarity for evidence of their attempts to contact witnesses.

Courtesy Car: Only if you agree to repairs to your vehicle carried out by their own appointed repairer but, now here’s the rub; first you agree to their decision to salvage your vehicle at less than its market value, minus excess charges, when your vehicle is easily and expertly repairable by an independent source recommended by one of the vehicles main manufacturers appointed garages at a price agreed by you and a lot less.

It is well known in the motor trade that insurance appointed vehicle repairers will hike their prices for insurance appointed work.

I would hesitate to follow up on any recommendation by Which? in future, until a more comprehensive investigation is carried out into some of the sharp practices carefully and insidiously written into insurance companies T&Cs are fully investigated by the regulator.

My car was damaged when I hit a dog that ran in front of my car while being pursued after it had slipped its lead. I was provided with a courtesy car, even though I said I did not really need one. When my car was returned the repairer kindly took it back to the hire company. My car is now in better condition than it was before the accident. More importantly, the accident has been treated as ‘no blame’ and having no-claims discount my premium has not been hiked. Yes I had to pay an excess because that was agreed.

Overall I am a happy customer, which is more than I can say about the way a small subsidence claim was handled by another company a few years ago. That took so long to sort out I delayed selling my house until the following year.

The problem of motor insurers paying out less than expected is well known and perhaps we should opt for agreed value policies, which are popular with owners of classic cars.

If Which? or another organisation is carrying out reviews of satisfaction, most customers will have simple cases, unlike yours.

I must have done something to upset them Wavechange.

The day following the accident a man from NFU came to assess and take photographs of the damage to the car, including the mileage which was just over 35,000 miles at the time.

Imagine my horror when the next day I received a phone call from someone who said he was an engineer from NFU and it was his intention to take my car away for salvage as it was classified as an ‘N category, write off but repairable for insurances purposes’ and they would pay me a sum less than it’s market value, minus £250 excess, leaving me without a car and insufficient cash to buy another. I thought he was joking! He wanted my car, a nice black and gold convertible with low mileage. There was absolutely no offer of repair. I have actually been approached on a few occasions by complete strangers asking if I would like to sell it to them.

There was no question he was having my car to sell off to his colleagues in the motor trade, who would repair and sell it off at auction at a nice little profit or do likewise with its parts.

Negotiations between the insurers were held up owing to the disappearance of the young guy who had backed into me, so I made the difficult decision to have it repaired independently by someone used and recommended by a main Vauxhall dealer in my area, who did an amazing job by repairing and not replacing the damaged panel at a very competitive price. I have read that a qualified accident investigator is able to determine from the damage whether or not the impact was caused by your car or another.

The ‘N category write off but repairable’ classification was then strangely rescinded by NFU which was an admission they had got it wrong and I was able to keep my car which appeared as new after the excellent job the engineer did.

I hope to keep driving it until my licence expires in just over a years time. It’s recently been serviced and has passed its MOT but the battery is not holding its charge if it’s not used every day. I believe there are special battery charger packs that you can buy to jump start it. I do have a set of jump leads but you need another vehicle to connect them to, I would really appreciate some guidance on whether these battery packs can be used on a regular basis and if they can be charged up independently.

I think some loss adjusters just have a problem with women Beryl.

I had a car stolen 25 years ago now. The thieves smashed into a brick wall before running off.

It was towed to a garage and the next day a loss adjuster (I think he called himself) phone to get my permission for my car to go to the scrapyard. No repair estimate had been done and he wasn’t going to get one done.

It was my company car that I bought when I was made redundant and had just paid I think £6000 for it only a few months before. The sexist LA wanted to give me £2000 and refused to discuss my car with me but would talk to my husband.

I asked the garage for a repair estimate that came to about £1200 and we fought until they agreed to carry out the repairs.

I have just looked at some old paperwork and I was with Norwich Union Direct, so that is twice they have screwed me over now.

I think it might have changed now, but when you had company car insurance, you lost your years of accident-free driving and had to start from scratch. They gave me an introductory discount they then took away when the car was stolen, and charged me double what I have just renewed this year. The renewal was similar to yours as the incident wasn’t settled I had to renew with them. The following year I switched companies and immediately saved about £100 a year.

Twice someone has hit my car – the first time they admitted fault, gave me their insurance details and I had no problems getting the claim settled, so I was lucky then. The second time the other person tried to get out of reversing into my car when he parked but the LA examined both cars, saw where the other person had sprayed the corner of his otherwise very tatty car that I had photographed, saw the good condition of my car and sided with me luckily.

Have you checked the price of a new battery instead of a battery pack Beryl? It might be worth getting one especially if you intend selling your car on.

We use Euro Car Parts quite a lot and have found them to be competitively priced and reliable although it is always worth shopping around.
https://www.eurocarparts.com/car-battery

You can enter your registration and it will tell you what batteries are suitable for your car. They currently have a discount code of MID60 and if you sign up for their newsletter, there might be other discounts.

They have very kindly sent us several little gifts. Last week it was hand sanitiser.

Beryl – I strongly advise that you replace your battery, but the new one must be kept charged (by normal driving or with a battery charger) or it will fail in the same way. A jump-start battery pack can be used to start a car with a flat battery but it will not charge the car battery enough to prevent it from deteriorating. A battery pack can be recharged by plugging it into the mains.

Halfords offers batteries with a decent guarantee and most stores have a fitting service, but they now charge £15 for what is a very simple job for most cars.

Thanks alfa and Wavechange for your helpful advice. It’s perhaps a bit late for me but a course in car engine maintenance might be on the cards in the new year!

I have learned quite a lot from my car accident experience and the importance of not allowing the powers that be to run roughshod all over you without challenging it. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity through this forum to present my case to others who may find themselves in a similar situation and for the advice and support from the regulars who give so much of their time to help others.

There are always going to be people without conscience who would rather flee from their misdeeds and wrongdoings and leave others to pick up the pieces, but sooner or later the past will return to punish and beleaguer them in the most unsuspecting ways

Challenges come and go and you learn from them, but remember when they do, a favourite Shakespearian quote of mine that “nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

There are several different types of bias Malcolm. For example:

Information bias
Selection bias
Confounding bias
Political bias
Against Bias
In favour of bias

And probably more importantly,
Unconscious bias (that the person with the bias is not aware of) which can influence decisions in recruitment, promotion and performance management.

For the above reasons, bias would most likely be extremely difficult to prove, but nevertheless could still exist.

I could say, because the ombudsman made a decision purely on the fact that neither they or the insurer were successful in their attempts to contact a legitimate witness that could have provided all the evidence needed to settle the case, the outcome would have gone in my favour. I could also say if the ombudsman had followed and taken into account the content of Malcolms article “What does an ombudsman do?” in his 10th of December posting, the outcome again could have gone in my favour. Why did NFU ignore my request to provide evidence they had in fact attempted to make contact with the potential witness, which would have settled the case and there would have been no need for me to contact the ombudsman? A good example of delaying tactics, commonly used by insurers to ensure your impending premium goes to them and not to a competitor.

The only sure way to settle my case is through the court who would examine and take into consideration every factor and detail relevant to the case, something the ombudsman failed to do without referral to a more investigative stage, which could just continue ad infinitum.

My advice for anyone caught up in a similar situation is – don’t waste your time and effort contacting the ombudsman who is financed by the company you are complaining about. Take your case to an attorney if you want a fair unbiased resolution to the case in question.

I don’t know if it is true or not, but I read that an ombudsman could only find in favour of up to a certain number of cases over a period, and once that number had been reached it was just tough luck on the rest of the cases for that period as they would all lose.

Richard says:
11 December 2020

The company’s know that going to Court is extremely expensive and that they can afford to employ the very best lawyers and keep on appealing right up to the high court as this is the way they crush the small claimants and is the reason the ombudsman scheme’s were set up but I don’t suppose whoever introduced them had any idea that they would become so used to talking to their opposite number in the complained against company in whichever discipline they were in, that they would start to think like them.
I remember talking to an old friend who had been a senior officer in the police force , who advised me that he finally left their employ because he began to think that everyone he met was a criminal including his own family!
My ombudsman had obviously in my personal opinion developed a close relationship with the other side and didn’t take up my offer of a chat with me if he needed any other information and found for them on a technicality that I could have easily have proven on my side if he hadn’t been so blinkered.
We really shouldn’t have to go through all this stress because of in my opinion, extreme prejudice against the consumer.

Beryl, I’n not casting any doubt on your case; from all you have related I hope you end up with the resolution you deserve.

I have had no experience of using an ombudsman. In view of their power I am concerned when doubt is cast on their general impartiality and objectivity. I feel such suggestions need to be backed up. Richard Lloyd’s extensive investigation into the FOS found no significant issues or bias. Was his investigation flawed? What evidence exists of systemic bias? Worth exploring.

Malcolm I appreciate your support but I think the focus has switched away from the main objective, which is, was the ombudsman’s decision fair, justified and unbiased? The fact that both the ombudsman who has government backed judicial powers and the insurer who has financial and corporate power were unable to make contact with a named witness that could have absolved me from any liability in the accident that occurred is good reason to question the outcome?

I think Richard makes an interesting point, inasmuch as it is possible that a close convivial relationship, over a period of time, can begin to think and act in a synchronised concordant manner. Add to that a financial component and you have a recipe for bias of some kind. The BBC regularly broadcast a programme about insurance fraud, which leaves one with the impression that, it is entirely feasible loss adjusters et al, over time, could develop a schizophrenic type mindset whereby everyone is under suspicion.

Evidence that bias exists in any case file would be difficult to obtain due to the many characterisations of it that exist, which were explicitly detailed in my 17.57 comment.

Richard says:
12 December 2020

The Money Savings Expert report found that 60% of customers believed ombudsmen are biased against them.
A lot of these sites are peopled by contributer’s who work for the company’s that people are complaining about who take their side and try and convince others that the action’s of their employers are entirely reasonable!?
One of them seemed to know more about my case than I did.
Shades of George Orwell.

Patrick Taylor says:
11 December 2020

It continues to amaze me that the consumer champion has studiously avoided setting up systems to log details of consumer complaints about products/companies and particularly these quasi-ombudsman.

Is it a hangover from the pro-business Which? Board of the Barwise era? Transparency is the key to highlighting dubious practices and yet do we have a single place where we can see these sorts of details.

I am conscious that when Which? Trusted Traders was in its infancy I was able to go to the “Ombudsman’s” report and see them mentioning their first case. Subsequent years revealed no information. I am aware that Which? Trusted Traders has introduced new controls but it does illustrate a problem where Joe Public is perpetually suffering from an information imbalance.

For instance we know that many solicitors/conveyancers were guilty of providing inadequate advice to buyers about abusive Ground Rent clauses. Can anyone tell me what the Law Society has done with this matter that affected thousands of people in the largest purchase of their lives.

So it would be nice if consumers in general had a reliable picture of Ombudsman’s number of complaints and success of claims to see if there was any interesting outcomes. The NHBC is perhaps the earliest example of a business owned/related organisation where housebuyers are at the mercy of a captive body.

Information is key but Which? is great on minimalist surveys but very bad on providing hard facts and a hard eye on organisations nominally designed to aid consumers with problems where the company has failed. Figures are not sexy but it is detail that reveals causes for concern.

Believe me if Ombudsmen, NHBC , Law Society had the hard eye on them I think things would improve.

Richard says:
15 December 2020

Does anyone have an idea about who to contact re big energy supplying corporations refusing to allow customers to leave for a cheaper supplier.

I will be contacting The Business Secretary Alok Dharma, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng and lots of other MP’S that have helped me on green issues.

The Competition and Marketing Authority.

Any ideas would be very welcome.

I don’t believe that any supplier of domestic energy can prevent you switching supplier but you will be charged an exit fee if you break a fixed term contract. This is often £30 per fuel, so £60 for both gas and electricity. Some suppliers do not charge an exit fee and others charge less or may waive the charge if you move to another tariff or not make a charge if you leave within a month of the contract ending.

One way they might prevent you from switching is if you owe them money. Ofgem say: ”If you’ve been in debt to your supplier for less than 28 days you can still switch. Any owed amounts will be added to your final bill from your old supplier. If you’ve been in debt to your supplier for over 28 days, you’ll need to repay the debt first.

That had not occurred to me, Malcolm. Perhaps Richard will explain why he has been refused the opportunity to switch supplier.

Some while ago, I did encounter some resistance when trying to move from one supplier to another. This took the form of a lack of cooperation between the suppliers and annoying requests for me to contact one on the others behalf.

To avoid such problems, I now only use suppliers that are members of the Energy Switch Guarantee scheme.

That’s not good, Derek. Looking at the Energy Switch Guarantee website I could not find out who runs it. It seems to be endorsed by Ofgem, the regulator, though they are no more forthcoming: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/consumers/household-gas-and-electricity-guide/how-switch-energy-supplier-and-shop-better-deal

I once switched supplier because the outgoing one had kept pushing up my direct debit payments unnecessarily. I only received a partial refund and that was apparently a mistake caused by only refunding my balance for either gas or electricity, not both. My account was for dual fuel. I wonder how many mistakes are never picked up.

Richard says:
15 December 2020

They insisted that I had a contract with them already in existence.
18 months later a senior executive of the company admitted that no such contract existed.

Thanks for coming back, Richard. It’s good that you are taking action and I suggest you also contact Ofgem, the regulator.

Richard says:
15 December 2020

I’ve heard that Ofgem are just as bad as the Ombudsman.
Anyone else think so?

Richard – companies that engage in anticompetitive practices with a view to preventing you from switching to another provider are breaking the law. You may find the following website of interest:

http://www.gov.uk – Avoid and Report Anticompetitive law

Richard says:
16 December 2020

Thanks Beryl, very interesting.
I am looking into it to see if it will be helpful to my case.
I wonder why others who have been taken for a ride by these crooks haven’t gone down this route?
Was it Tony Blair who was laughed out of the European Parliament when he announced that he was going to sell off his country’s essential services?

This current news story does not relate to insurance but it is an interesting example of the Financial Ombudsman Service supporting the case of consumers who have not been reimbursed after losing money as a result of fraud: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-55286037

Ombudsfan says:
16 December 2020

This is a bit verbose, it’s complaint I made to Ofgem, I have edited some waffle out, but I think the substance of this Ofgem interaction shows their indulgent attitude to the companies they regulate. I have replaced the actual company name with EnergyCo, the individuial emails are separated by “>>>>”

My conclusion is that although they (EnergyCo) effectively stole money from me over the course of several months, the Ofgem penalty was originally limited to the switch service failure fee of £30 (what they should have paid anyway for switching failure). I was able to get this increased, but only by my notional losses from not being switched, nothing for my inconvenience, time, robbery of my bank account, or fact that the company completely ignored my direct attempts to remedy the situation. I’m a strong believer in the power of the bottom line. Companies with poor service are at a competitive advantage to more ethical companies; regulations should set out minimum explicit exemplary penalties for deliberate procrastination or obfuscation by companies.

As an aside, I was initially refused a refund of the direct debits by my bank, who tried to pass me back to “EnergyCo “; I needed to advise them of their own T&C’s regarding the direct debit guarantee to get my money back. Apparently the bank was “founded on a social purpose” and it’s “commitment to supporting our members and the society we live in hasn’t changed”, apart from when it isn’t… I didn’t bother to go to FCA…

>>>>
Ofgem Initial response:

EnergyCo has not responded to your requests…

…transfer of your energy supplies to EnergyCo, the request was unsuccessful.

In these circumstances it is reasonable for me to expect to see evidence of the consumer being advised of the reasons for the problems, with some advice of how to correct the issue or what would happen next.
I have received no evidence of this.

EnergyCo has confirmed it has never supplied you, but that it took payments from you towards energy consumption.

In summary I acknowledge that you experienced poor customer service from EnergyCo. I acknowledge the amount of time that you spent attempting to resolve the issue. I note that there is no evidence of the company advising you of being able to bring your complaint to our service after eight weeks of the complaint being raised. As this is part of the Standard Licencing Conditions for Suppliers, to not do this is a shortfall in customer service.

I have decided that EnergyCo should provide a £30 gesture of goodwill… a fair and reasonable acknowledgement of your complaint.

Following my investigation my decision is for EnergyCo to:

• Provide a £30 goodwill gesture as a direct payment; and
• Provide an apology in writing.

End of Ofgem report

>>>>>
My response:
Dear *****
I do not accept £30 as a reasonable offer in relation to the complaint I have made.
I reject this on the factual basis that you have not included the consequential loss to me of delaying my transfer by three months caused by EnergyCo’s failings, causing higher payments for my fuel in that time.
I also point out that £30 is the minimum in your own organisation guidelines for Energy supplier switch problems.
EnergyCo have failed:
1) by not fulfilling their obligations under the switch guarantee;
2) by taking money from me without consent;
3) by ignoring my attempts to communicate with them.

£30 would be reasonable if they had lived up to their obligations following the initial problem with the transfer, and offered it freely without my needing to waste time correcting their behaviour. I consider my situation merits more than minimal compensation, quite apart from the additional consequential loss.

>>>>>
Ofgem final ruling:
It is reasonable for me to consider you have incurred further costs for your energy while you have not been able to transfer to a cheaper deal while trying to resolve the issue with EnergyCo. As such I will increase the goodwill in this instance to £60 to cover this inconvenience.

Richard says:
17 December 2020

It make you wonder how many of Ofgem’s staff are ex energy companies employees?
I once had a dispute over a claim for subsistence to an insurance company so I hired a barrister who was an ex insurance company employee but he was so on the side of the insurance company that we had to part company. It took me 15 years to finally get them to admit responsibility and get recompensed! I hate injustice and will never give in to bully’s.
In a society like ours should we really have to be put through these sort of tribulations?