Ombudsmen and ADR schemes play a crucial role in consumer protection; they resolve disputes as a final referee between a consumer and a company when they’re unable to settle a complaint between themselves. For some, they are a viable, free alternative to court action across a range of services and products – including finance, energy, telecoms, legal services, healthcare and housing.
However, to use an ombudsman or ADR scheme, a consumer must first complain to the firm involved, for example, to their bank. The firm then has eight weeks to handle their case before an ombudsman will consider the complaint. See our Financial Ombudsman – your rights guide for more info.
But MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) has campaigned for the eight-week wait time to be slashed by at least half for more than four years, and highlighted this in both our 2017’Sharper Teeth’ report and our 2019 Justice Delayed report. The latter report found that 89% of the 2,069 people surveyed said the eight-week rule should at least be halved, while 50% said firms should have no more than 14 days to deal with a complaint.
In its consultation, the Government accepted there was a good case for the eight-week wait to be halved, although it added that where complaints are complex, there may be reason for businesses to have more time in resolving disputes, as long as there had been “constructive engagement” beforehand.
The consultation also supported our recommendation for people in senior ombudsmen roles to be vetted. But the Government didn’t back our belief that the word’ombudsman’ should only be used for a body with statutory powers that can call all firms to account, to create a gold standard in regulation.