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What is an alternative dispute resolution service?

If you find you are unable to resolve a customer’s complaint, you can point customers towards the alternative dispute resolution service used by Which? Trusted Traders. We explain how this works.

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When something goes wrong with a product you purchased from a shop, you expect a quick refund or to be able to exchange it without having to jump through too many hoops.

The same applies to your consumers when they employ you. They want to know that any issues with your work, whether they relate to materials, craftsmanship, or personnel, will be resolved as swiftly as possible. Of course your complaints process will kick in, but if you are unable to resolve a complaint to the customer’s satisfaction, as a Which? Trusted trader you are automatically a member of an alternative dispute resolution service.

What is alternative dispute resolution?

Alternative dispute resolution involves employing an independent third party, an ombudsman, who mediates between the people or organisations in conflict, such as a customer and a trader. The ombudsman helps the two parties negotiate, and can also make a ruling on a particular case after examining all the evidence.

The Ombudsman Service’s annual measurement of complaints recorded more than a million complaints against traders in 2015. It interviewed over 2,000 people with more than three quarters saying they were unlikely to put up with poor service without taking action[1]. Ombudsman schemes are the most popular third party for consumer complaints.

How does it work?                             

If you are in dispute with a customer and your complaints procedure has not resolved the problem, then you can point them towards the alternative dispute resolution scheme. If they are willing to go down that route, the customer can bring the dispute before the ombudsman. The complaint must be instigated by the customer, not the trader.

Customers need to put their complaint in writing and provide evidence to the ombudsman of negligence on the part of the trader in carrying out the work specified in the agreed contract. This means providing written proof in the form of contracts, agreements plus photographic evidence of poor work and so on.

Equally, traders need to supply evidence to support their version of events, in the form of their copy of any contract, agreements, record of conversations, plus photographic evidence of work provided. This is one reason why it is so important to follow procedure when quoting and contracting for work – in the event of a dispute these records are essential.

The independent ombudsman evaluates all the evidence and reaches a resolution.

What are the benefits of belonging to an alternative dispute resolution scheme?

Judith Turner, a Senior Ombudsman, at Dispute Resolution Ombudsman describes the service as ‘..about improving consumer confidence…if you have a clear process, even before any purchase is made, it reassures the consumer and makes them confident about dealing with you.’

An alternative dispute resolution scheme is usually:

  • more informal and much faster than going to court
  • less daunting and more straightforward than legal action
  • cheaper than court as there are no legal fees
  • confidential and impartial

It is worth advertising to consumers that you are a member of an alternative dispute resolution scheme, as Judith says, ‘It’s a great message to say to customers that this is something you subscribe to – if things go wrong, you’ve got an avenue to go down.’

Which? Trusted Traders work together with an ombudsman service provider, in order to ensure that all our traders have access to an alternative dispute resolution scheme. From September 1st 2016, this will be Dispute Resolution Ombudsman.

What do I need to do?

It is a legal requirement to let your customers know you have access to this ADR service. From 1st September 2016 you will need to feature the following text on your website and on your terms and conditions:

As a Which? Trusted Trader we have a range of support services available to us and our customers.  One of these services is access to an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service, which enables our customers to seek an impartial review of a complaint in the unlikely event that we are unable to resolve it between ourselves. 

This is a free service for the customer, offered by Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, an approved government scheme.  Further information about the Ombudsman can be found at  http://www.disputeresolutionombudsman.org/whichtrustedtraders/ or by telephoning them on 0333 241 3209

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[1] https://www.ombudsman-services.org/downloads/CAM2016_report.pdf