Personal Finance

How you can use the new Consumer Ombudsman

A new complaint service aims to give us all someone to call if we are unhappy with goods or services we’ve been sold. The Consumer Ombudsman is intended to provide a watchdog to cover areas that up until now were not covered.

It will accept consumer complaints about retail companies, home maintenance, improvement or installation services, second-hand cars, car repairs and servicing.

“Our reseach shows that we’re complaining more than ever before, but frustratingly we don’t always know where to go,” says Lewis Shand Smith, the chief executive of the Ombudsman Services, in The Independent. “As a result we have opened our doors to complaints in any sector.”

Last year Brits made 66 million complaints about products and services – that’s one every 1.2 seconds. But the vast majority of those, 40 million, went unresolved largely because people give up as they don’t know how to progress with their issue.

If you have had problems with a retailer or service you can now complain at www.consumer-ombudsman.org or by calling 0333 300 1620.

The Ombudsman isn’t all powerful. As yet it isn’t compulsory for retail companies, second hand car dealers or builder to be a member of the scheme. If they aren’t the Consumer Ombudsman cannot force them to follow their advice.

However, the Ombudsman has said that it will pursue complaints even if they are against firms that aren’t members of the scheme. If the company is willing to work with the ombudsman on the complaint the aim is to resolve it within 10 working days.

It is likely that many companies will sign up for membership of the scheme in the coming months. This is because a new EU directive comes into force in October that wants all companies to offer access to a resolution service. If they don’t they will have to explain why not to their customers.

So, in the future it should become much simpler for us all to seek redress for poor service, faulty goods or shoddy behaviour from companies.

How to complain

  1. If you are unhappy about something the first thing to work out is what you want to achieve. Decide whether you want a refund, compensation or simply an apology.
  2. Next speak to the company directly. Explain what you are unhappy with and how you would live it resolved. Stay calm – getting angry or emotional won’t help.
  3. If you aren’t happy with the company’s response or they are taking ages to respond – normally anything over eight weeks – you can take your complaint to the industry ombudsman. Two well-known ones are the Financial Ombudsman and the Legal Ombudsman, but if in doubt you can now simply go to the Consumer Ombudsman and they will pass you on to the right scheme if they can’t handle your complaint.
  4. After that the ombudsman should work to resolve your complaint within 10 working days.
  5. If you still aren’t happy you can take your dispute to the courts.

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