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What Is an Ombudsman?

by Guest Post on May 29, 2010

An Ombudsman is someone to whom you can address a complaint about an organization or body.

If you feel you have been dealt with unfairly or have suffered some financial or other loss you would like to investigate an Ombudsman is someone you can address the complaint to.

There are a number of Ombudsman Schemes in the United Kingdom. Some Ombudsmen are Government appointed, for example, The Local Government Ombudsman and The Financial Services Ombudsman, whereas others are industry appointed, such as the Telecommunications Ombudsman and the Surveyor Ombudsman. The Double Glazing Ombudsman is a similar non-statutory scheme.

The Ombudsman can save industry and consumers money. In addition to freeing up the court system, there are also opportunities to explore the potential for mediation and conciliation and come to a negotiated settlement that provides both parties with a means for a proposed compromise. If this process proves fruitless, The Ombudsman can investigate further and, if necessary, provide a determination and award by arbitration. The Ombudsman's decisions are legally binding on both parties and enforceable in the same manner as a judgment of the court.

Why Does The Double Glazing & Conservatory Industry Need An Ombudsman?

The industry has little regulation. Whilst standards of the product are getting better, problems still occur with mis-selling methods, badly installed products, unfulfilled remedial work, and lengthy guarantees which are not honored (due to traders going out of business or having an unwillingness to make good on their promises).

The general public still has a deep-rooted and long-standing distrust of the industry. Many installers believe that the quality of membership of most Trade Associations and Installer Schemes doesn't lend itself to the grouping of highly professional businesses that are customer focused.

The lack of consumer protection is considered appalling by many who experience problems. Most trade associations/ installer schemes do not have any “teeth” when called upon to intervene with complaints between installers and customers.

If the installer has been unprofessional or carried out unsatisfactory work and refuses to co-operate with the customer or trade association there is little anyone can do…..until now.
The only legitimate options left for consumers were: (a) The Citizen’s Advice Bureau, (b) Trading Standards, or (c) a trip to the local solicitor or county /high court. The former two can advise but often fail to persuade an intransigent installer to give the consumer satisfaction and the latter can be daunting and very often costly to the complainant.

The Ombudsman Scheme has an extensive Accreditation Procedure. This helps members achieve a higher standard of service, administration, and consumer satisfaction. The Ombudsman Scheme has extensive legal powers to investigate complaints made against members. Any decisions made are legally binding and enforceable under the terms of The Arbitration Act 1996. Members have signed a legally binding contract at the point of entry into the scheme allowing the Ombudsman to investigate and thereby agreeing to abide by any decisions made.

The complaints process (consisting of conciliation, mediation, independent inspections, and ultimately, if necessary, arbitration) is a totally free service to the consumer/complainant. This provides a level of protection hitherto unavailable in this industry to consumers.

In short, the scheme is long-awaited, and very well received by installers, the industry, consumer groups, the press and general public. The Ombudsman Scheme is a powerful way to help bring renewed consumer confidence and enhance the image of the industry. Members promote professionalism, competency and customer care, combined with a robust form of legal redress for justified complaints.

What sort of things can the double glazing Ombudsman investigate?

The Ombudsman can investigate a complaint only if:-

  • The complaint is against one of the Member Organisations.
  • The complaint is about something which happened during the period of membership.
  • The complaint relates to a member which operates in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The Ombudsman Scheme does not cover the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or foreign countries.

     

The Ombudsman will consider a complaint if the complainant believes they have been treated unfairly, the service received is unacceptable or a situation has led to distress, inconvenience, or financial disadvantage.

What is there that the Ombudsman cannot or may not do?

The Ombudsman has no power to investigate something which is being or has been, decided by some other Tribunal or Court. In some situations, the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate are limited. An example of this is:-

  • When another Ombudsman has statutory control and regulation of the subject matter of the complaint.
  • When the complaint involves an allegation of fraud which must be investigated by police as a criminal activity.

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