Consumers who have experienced a problem with a business that they have been unable to resolve on their own can take legal action, which is both time-consuming and expensive, but consumers are turning to the growing number of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes(1).

A recent report by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau summarises the ADR landscape and the UK’s current approach to ADR as incoherent and confusing.

QASSS aims to provide consumers and industry with quality assured, accountable tradespeople. Our goal is to reduce consumer detriment and raise industry standards in the home improvement industry. Mistakes can happen and when something goes wrong, our four-step dispute resolution process ensures that complaints are resolved fairly and quickly. To view our process in detail, click here or the image below.

QASSS Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS, commented, “Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provides consumers with a quicker and easier way of resolving their disputes and means that they don’t have to worry about going to court. In many cases, a consumer would need to have gone through an ADR process before a claim can be heard in court. Almost every case that QASSS takes on is resolved by the QASSS ADR team without the need for the consumer to go anywhere else.”

In recent years there have been a number of key reports published on ADR, examining the consumer’s journey and experience. A report that still holds true three years on is the Citizen Advice Bureaux’s Confusion, Gaps and Overlaps report(2).

Three core findings from the report concluded that:

  • The ADR landscape is confusing for consumers.
  • The current ADR landscape is not designed with consumers’ needs in mind,
  • Improving ADR provision is hampered by a lack of good quality data.

1). The ADR landscape is confusing for customers
There are now more ADR schemes than ever, which has increased since the problem was published. While this is not a problem in itself and has improved coverage, it has further added to the complexity facing consumers who are not sure where to turn. And there remain significant gaps and overlaps. Where there are gaps and a lack of ADR provision, consumers are left without a remedy. Where there are overlaps, consumers are left confused.

  • What do consumers think ADR means?
    71%(3) of consumers thought that ADR was a ‘means to avoid a dispute going to court’
    – 55%(3) thought that ADR was a mediator
    – 51%(3) thought ADR was ‘an impartial arbiter’
  • Had consumers heard of or know about ADR?
    – 15%(3) of consumers had heard of the term
    – 60%(3) of consumers know what adjudication means, the next well-known process was ‘conciliation’ (61%)(3)
    – 83%(3) of consumers know what mediation is. The next best-known process was ‘ombudsman schemes’ (77%)(3)

2). The current ADR landscape is not designed with consumers’ needs in mind.

Except where ADR is mandatory, businesses have the power both to decide whether to take part in ADR and, if so, which ADR scheme to use. In some sectors, multiple ADR schemes compete with each other. The result is that consumers’ needs are not being met and often consumers do not know where to complain.

Consumer experiences of ADR
– Consumers find it hard to find an ADR scheme to complain to.
– Consumers want the ADR scheme to listen to them and provide individual redress.
– Consumers find the process easy, although they felt that some may struggle.
– Areas of dissatisfaction with ADR centred on timeliness and the remedy provided.
– Consumers feel that independence, impartiality, and expertise of ADR schemes are important

What do consumers want from ADR?

          Before ADR

– To be signposted to the ADR scheme by the trader.
– To be told that an ADR scheme exists that can deal with their complaint.
– To have good information available online about the ADR scheme.
– To have their concerns validated by the ADR scheme.
– For the trader to be made to listen by the ADR scheme.
– To have the reassurance they are not being a nuisance and have genuine concerns.

         During ADR
– To be listened to and feel understood.
– To be accessible via email and online portals, and have forms & documents available online.
– To have a simple and straightforward process.
– To have a timely resolution to their complaint.
– To prevent the trader from causing delays in resolving a dispute.
– To be impartial, but also supportive of complainants.
– To have appropriate expertise (both in terms of customers service and industry knowledge).
– To be clearly informed of the outcome of their case.
– To be compensated for the inconvenience of complaining.
– To be provided remedies quickly and without the need for chasing.

       After ADR
– To make a difference and achieve a positive outcome.
– To have a process involving little bureaucracy and formality.
– To feel complaining is worth it even when they don’t get the outcome they want.
– To demonstrate that their complaint has been understood.

3). Improving ADR provision is hampered by a lack of good quality data.

Simply describing the UK’s ADR landscape is a complex task. Information is not readily available and there is significant variation between ADR schemes in terms of transparency. Lack of good quality comparative data makes tackling the shortfalls in ADR provision more difficult. It also means that feedback loops that might improve business practice are less likely to be present. Overall, it means that ensuring consumer needs are met is difficult to assess and assure.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) key conclusions and recommendations

The number and scope of ADR schemes have increased, but gaps clearly remain. As not all businesses are required to join an ADR scheme, it is clear that consumers remain without access to ADR in some consumer sectors. The Citizens Advice Bureau recommends that the government should adopt the principle that participation in ADR should be mandatory across all consumer sectors. While this may lead to fears from some businesses that the system will be abused (particularly where disputes are low in value or complainants are exhibiting vexatious behaviour), the benefits in ensuring accessible redress and enhancing consumer confidence are significant.

In regulated sectors, the ADR landscape is likely to be confusing for consumers where multiple schemes operate. This may be confusing for consumers who do not easily know which ADR schemes can deal with their complaints. The CAB recommends that there should be only one ADR provider per sector. This will help to avoid consumer confusion and make it easier for regulators and consumer advocates to work with the ADR provider. If all complaints go to only one ADR provider, it will be easier to spot trends in complaints and to understand where consumers are experiencing problems. The potential benefits of competition in terms of raising standards can be maintained by regularly inviting tenders for the contract to provide the ADR scheme.

The ADR landscape in non-regulated areas is complicated by overlaps in schemes. The potential for confusion is even greater with some sectors, like home maintenance and improvement, having a very large number of ADR schemes available. The CAB recommends that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should work with the industry and key stakeholders to harmonise practice across ADR schemes.

The current ADR landscape is not based around the needs of consumers. Consumers’ problems cannot easily be fitted into the existing jurisdictions of ADR schemes (e.g. a consumer buying a home may face problems with an estate agent, mortgage lender, financial advisor, surveyor, and lawyer). The current ADR landscape does not reflect on how people experience problems in practice.

In non-regulated areas, even where businesses are signed up to an ADR scheme, consumers may be disadvantaged by the fact that the business gets to choose the ADR scheme and the types of process to be used. Consumers have to go with the option the businesses have signed up to and businesses may select ADR schemes on the basis of price rather than quality.

While the Consumer ADR Directive has increased the number of schemes available, with the potential to provide redress in areas where none previously existed, this has also led to further complexity and confusion. Simplification and rationalisation of the landscape are required. The analysis clearly demonstrates the difficulty in comparing performance between ADR schemes at present. The Consumer ADR Directive has led to the development of some common quality standards. The Ombudsman Association is currently finalising a project with the British Standards Institute to develop a common service standards framework for its members, who will be required to report on their performance against their published standards. Having a single authoritative body with oversight of the ADR sector would also ensure that quality is maintained.

(4)A green paper was written in April 2018 about modernising consumer markets. The discussion points were:

  • How we can improve consumers’ awareness of alternative dispute resolution and their experience of the process
  • How to improve consumer access to alternative dispute resolution
  • How to support local and national enforces to work together to protect consumers

The CTSI responded recommending that ADR should be used as a business development tool in that effective monitoring of ADR trends can show where the problems are in a market and use them to direct and educate businesses. They believe that compulsory membership of ADR in certain areas such as consumer renewable energy and real estate works well. The consumer will get fair redress and the business will be incentivised to raise standards in order to protect their reputation.

At QASSS we look at complaint trends on a regular basis, so we can advise members on developing trends and on areas for improvement. Click here for a sample report on product complaints.

Traders should be proud to be members of a consumer protection scheme and prominently display it in marketing literature, online and at the point of sale to help conversion rates and demonstrate their commitment to customer service. It should be noted that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 places specific obligations on traders to declare membership of a code of conduct or ADR scheme.

QASSS provides all DGCOS, HIES and HICS members with an Installer Hub which brings together an online shop and job registration portal, making it easy for members to order their point of sale, marketing material and register their jobs, all on one site. All the schemes are Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) approved for alternative Dispute Resolution. Our goal is to reduce consumer detriment and the raise of standards in the home improvement industry.

QASSS’s approach to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

We know from experience that complaints handling is critical to the home improvement sector. With the emergence of online platforms that support a consumer’s ability to comment on a company’s reputation, it is increasingly important for businesses to deal with and correct a complaint quickly and effectively.

At QASSS we understand that complaints, if not dealt with, can lead to costly and lengthy court proceedings as well as being a drain on internal resources. Using an ADR service not only reduces time and cost but also takes the emotion out of the situation where disputes are resolved impartially based on facts. With in-depth sector knowledge and professional mediators, we provide industry-leading fast resolutions (3.59 days on average) and, most importantly, protect consumers and company reputations.

Ciaran Harkin, Managing Director at QASSS, commented “In the last year, we have changed our approach to ADR so that both our members and consumers have access to an expert team who can quickly resolve disputes in a fair manner. Our ADR team also provides advice and constantly monitor trends in consumer complaints which can then be fed back to members to support them in providing excellent customer service.”

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay