From today (12 August 2015), any person who has a complaint about goods or service in any sector not already served by an ombudsman scheme may use the Consumer Ombudsman.

What is it?

The Ombudsman Services is a private, not-for-profit company which already operates ombudsman services for the energy and telecoms sectors. It is now accepting consumer complaints from all other industries such as retail, car garages and home maintenance (such as builders and plumbers) under the “Consumer Ombudsman” name.

The Ombudsman Service provides dispute resolution service for consumers and companies. Its aim is to provide independent and impartial decisions on complaints. The service is free for consumers to use but companies are required to pay subscription/case fees. As you would expect payment of these fees are not dependent on the outcome of the complaint.

What does it mean for businesses?

Legally, not much. It’s a voluntary scheme and the Consumer Ombudsman does not have any statutory powers.

Commercially, businesses will need to consider consumer demand for such a scheme and decide what value they will receive from involvement with the Ombudsman. Importantly, the Consumer Ombudsman has confirmed that it will take on complaints against businesses who are not existing members of the scheme. Therefore, businesses with large volumes of consumer complaints should expect to receive communication from the Ombudsman, whether they are members or not. As such, it is highly likely that the level of consumer uptake of the service will dictate the future and success of the scheme.