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University Experts Call for Consumer Rights to be Taken Seriously

Posted: 14th March 2016

To mark World Consumer Rights Day (Tuesday 15th March), experts from Queen Margaret University’s Consumer Dispute Resolution Centre, have published a new research report highlighting the value of ombudsman schemes in helping consumers realise their rights.

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UK consumers made 52 million complaints last year, with 1 in 11 people taking their complaint to an ombudsman and 1 in 25 to a small claims court.  Despite these astonishing figures, consumer problems are often deflected or ignored. The Centre, which runs the MSc Dispute Resolution, has been working with ombudsman and complaint handling organisations to help consumers get a fairer deal.

QMU is aiming to help raise standards across the complaint handling industry by drawing on insights from its research, which has recently examined the outcome of complaints, the use of complaints to drive innovation, and best practice in the design of complaint processes.

The Centre’s latest research report, commissioned by Ombudsman Services, looks at recent developments in the UK and Europe which reveal both opportunities and challenges for those interested in making consumer rights a reality, which includes the EU’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Directive and the UK Consumer Rights Act. While these measures potentially enhance consumer protection, there remains a need to ensure that external redress mechanisms are effective and fit for purpose.

QMU’s research compares various means of resolving consumer problems, with a particular focus on consumer ombudsman schemes.  The key conclusion of the research is that ombudsman schemes have distinct advantages when it comes to realising consumer rights, including greater accessibility, provision of more support to the consumer and learning from complaints.

The research also looks at other forms of dispute resolution, such as ADR schemes and courts, and argues that these are less accessible to consumers and have less of a focus on helping businesses to improve their services. The report argues that whereas other forms of dispute resolution are only about settling complaints, ombudsman schemes have potential to add value for consumers and businesses and represent a potentially powerful approach to realising consumer rights.

Chris Gill, Senior Lecturer in Administrative Justice & Programme Leader for MSc Dispute Resolution, said: “More could be done to make sure that consumers get a fair deal in day-to-day service delivery and when they have cause to complain. To enhance consumer confidence and encourage them to complain when they receive a sub-standard service, there is a need to make sure that consumers have access to high quality external dispute resolution.Our research suggests that ombudsman schemes should be increasingly seen as the premium approach to external dispute resolution. While the contribution of courts and other forms of ADR should not be dismissed, it is likely that ombudsman schemes provide the best available means to helping consumers realise their rights.”

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, said:“The landscape for resolving consumer problems is changing fast, with more complaints being dealt with outwith the court system. This research helps to clarify the role that ombudsman schemes play in the consumer dispute resolution system and shows the added value that they generate for consumers and businesses alike. These schemes are a trusted brand for consumers and in an excellent position to help strengthen access to justice, playing a vital role in helping consumers to realise their rights.”

The Consumer Dispute Resolution Centre is celebrating World Consumer Rights Day by:

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