/ Money

A ‘super ombudsman’ to deal with all complaints?

Man turning into superhero

Yesterday I was in Edinburgh discussing Scottish consumer protection with finance secretary John Swinney. One proposal was to create a single ‘super ombudsman’ to handle all complaints and disputes…

The plan would create a one-stop shop to handle all types of complaints and disputes, including financial ones, to replace the 95 or so ombudsman schemes in the UK.

It’s good to see the Scottish Government putting consumers at the heart of their proposals to reform regulation in Scotland. We fully support a single consumer ombudsman to deal with complaints right across the economy. The current UK wide system leaves consumers without the option of alternative dispute resolution in certain sectors, like travel.

Regulators that put you first

At Which? we understand the desire for a simpler, more focused system. But whatever form it ultimately takes, we want to see regulators that are proactive and that put you, the consumer, first.

For the changes to be effective, consumers must be taken seriously, and regulators should be given the powers they need to stand up to rogue businesses and act on unfair markets.

An effective redress mechanism could help to restore consumer trust in markets, which would potentially drive up business standards and increase competition. It’s positive for businesses, markets and the economy if we feel well protected and are confident that we’ll be treated fairly.

Nipping mis-selling scandals in the bud

A consumer ombudsman could also help to identify systemic failures that can be fixed before widespread mis-selling or other problems take root. This could mean we avoid seeing huge scandals like Payment Protection Insurance (PPI). We would also like to see additional powers to allow regulators or consumer groups to take collective action when many people have been affected by the same problem.

Would you like to see a single ‘super ombudsman’ introduced in the UK? Have you ever had to turn to an ombudsman for help – how did you get on?


May I suggest that the first task would be to look at the performance of the existing regulators, with a view to promoting good practice and demanding improved performance where appropriate.

Different areas of the consumer market require different expertise and specialist knowledge. So I think we need separate organisations. However, where complaints involve more than one regulator an “oversight” regulator could be useful to decide who deals with the problem (maybe more than one regulator) and to coordinate. I can’t help but fear that a single ombudsman would be a huge top heavy beaurocratic organisation where targets would be difficult to apply and performance difficult to assess. We are too keen on making dramatic changes when tuning the existing system may be more productive.

Can you provide a list of the 95 Ombudsmen? Seems for rational comment it would be helpful.

My initial reactions are bigger is not better, what about pan-European matters, and Ombudsmen having teeth and actually using them would be the biggest improvement.

Without devoting much time to digging out information it seems to me that if we are concerned about the consumer experience then perhaps being more proactive with consumer aimed products and banning the high volume heard through i- pods that could damage hearings [thanks French Govt], banning shoddy LED lights by adequate testing and penalties, and more generally enforcing legislation that already exists.

I, and many others, remain in shock over the car insurance equality premiums change pushed by the Belgian equivalent of Which? to the detriment of female drivers. Protecting the consumer ? Where was Which? and the government on this?

Sailor G says:
16 August 2013

A Super Ombudsman with a sense of moral justice and no specialist knowledge, to oversee existing regulators, sounds sensible and practical. However we also need to enforce existing laws and enable the regulators to bite, (We don’t need to go into the banking failures, the SFO etc!) Whoever believes in “self regulation” in industry must also still believe in fairies?? It would also be nice to see some accountability at the top for a change. Either that or we drastically reduce what top earners get paid if they’re not prepared to take responsibility for their failures.

Paul Hunt says:
17 August 2013

I’m not sure what the purpose of this post is. I expect you’re well aware that the Government has, as usual, decided, then consulted (ignoring any critiques or alternative approaches advanced) and has legislated – or is about to legislate – on the whole area of competition policy, regulation and consumer protection.

This is the ‘landscape’ it has decided:

And this is the consumer ‘protection’ bill it has published:

The entire effort is to convey the optical illusion of enhanced consumer protection, but the intent is to further individualise, atomise and isolate consumers and to prevent the mounting of any collective action to protect or advance their interests. I would be surprised if anyone is surprised. What would one expect from the governing parties who are reliant on political party funding from many of the businesses who do the most damage to consumers’ interests? And the Labour party is little different. It too relies on funding from wealthy business people and companies.

The objective is to protect, but disguise, the pervasive rent-seeking that is practised by all large companies that deal directly with the public. (For readers who might be interested, rent-seeking is the pursuit of economic rent which is a measure of the unearned surplus captured by a provider or supplier when supply is fixed or artificially constrained and demand is boosted. Economic rents or unearned surpluses are captured when market mechanisms and competition are malfunctioning. Rent-seeking is pervasive and endemic in the British economy. It is prevalent in most advanced economies with each having its own variation, but the British variation is particularly damaging, because it is doubly damaging. Rent capture increases costs for all consumers; and rent-seekers have an incentive to spend (or, in other words, waste) almost as much as they can capture to effect the rent capture.)

The Government is seeking to disguise this pervasive rent capture by large companies by applying the full force of the law to smaller businesses and individual traders who opportunistically, but not systematically, exploit consumers. Even when this is applied to the large companies, it is on the basis of a few bad apples in an exceedingly good barrel. It is also seeking to disguise this by dispersing consumer protection responsibility among a plethora of regulators and agencies which have either been captured by the businesses they are ostensibly empowered to regulate or have been deprived of the statutory powers to mount collective action on behalf of consumers.

The legislative and structural framework has been set and nothing signifcant will happen before the next election. Indeed, nothing will happen until a majority of citizens eventually wake up to realise the extent to which they’re being ripped off. But this won’t be as a result of the tepid and inane efforts of the so-called consumer protection bodies, whether voluntary or statutory, or the efforts of the media which are either ideologically biased or in thrall to the rent-seekers.

Alan Smith says:
18 August 2013

I had a dispute with Greenwich Council over £600+vat that they charged me for suspending parking bays so Thames Water could replace a leaking pipe into my home. The council lost no money by suspending the bays all they did was tie two notices to lampposts. I then discovered many of the bays are marked out wrong which makes them illegal. I put this to the Local Government Ombudsman and asked them to make the council return my money. Instead of this they have accepted many lies from Greenwich Council of which I have proof of in writing. Many of the road markings at parking bays in Greenwich Are illegal and the Ombudsman has done nothing to make the Council correct this. The Ombudsman needs to be replaced now with an honest system .

This might be something you need to take up with the Parking & Traffic Appeals Service rather than the LG Ombudsman.

Alan Smith says:
19 August 2013

I spoke to the Parking & Traffic Appeals Service but they would not help me because too much time had passed. The lesson for me here is not to get involved with the LG Ombudsman. They accept lies from Councils as stated on the Ombudsman Watchers website.

Thanks for the mentioning – I was not aware they existed.

I think that they need someone for tv licences as ive paid for two of them and been told I can only claim three months back I should think there are other cases as well as tv licence so I think they should have separet ones for each a specialist on all but I think just one for all would not work due to amount of complaints