Resolving Disputes Without The Courts
Resolving a complaint claim by going to court can be an expensive, time-consuming and stressful experience. Fortunately there are many alternative options available.
Alternative Dispute ResolutionThe collective name for the ways in which one can resolve a complaint without resorting to court action is ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ (ADR). This banner is the header for mediation, arbitration and ombudsman schemes and recognised as the next step for people with serious claims before the final solution of the courts.
What Benefits Do ADRs Have Over Going to Court?The principle advantages to an ADR over court action are that they are cheaper, less stressful and able to solve problems faster.
Alternative dispute resolutions don’t always have to replace court or tribunal proceedings, but can be used as complementary combination, with the ADR, for example, helping to easier define the core problem.
What Can I Hope to Gain From an ADR?A legal action is generally required when the only way to resolve a dispute is through a strict judgement of the court. ADRs tend to offer more flexible and less damning resolutions, such as getting an apology, an explanation or an item replaced.
Conciliation and MediationThe trade associations that represent many organisations, are often able to help consumers with a problem and sometimes even run a special conciliation service.
Conciliation is an informal procedure whereby the association attempts to find a resolution that both the consumer and the service provider can agree on. However, it is not usually legally binding and so the service provider would not be breaking the law if they subsequently decided not to follow the ruling.
ArbitrationAs it involves an impartial arbitrator making a verdict after reviewing two sides of a case, arbitration is considered to be like court proceedings albeit less formal and focused primarily on written evidence.
Trade associations commonly have their own arbitration schemes. For example the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) deals with disagreements about holidays. Some schemes are self-run, whereas others are organised by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb).
If a consumer has a complaint with a business attached to a trade association then it is worth asking whether they run an arbitration scheme to help deal with the problem.
The arbitrator‘s verdict is binding and must be adhered to by the consumer and the service provider. It is therefore not possible to follow arbitration with court proceedings if the results are unsatisfactory.
OmbudsmenIf arbitrators are judges, then ombudsmen are referees, responsible for fielding complaints about public and private organisations. They are usually called on to investigate when a complaint has not been resolved through the normal company complaints procedure.
Ombudsmen therefore do not make binding judgments on particular cases but instead review contested public and private sector decisions. The ones dealing with the latter generally investigate whether the decision was a fair and sound one based on industry standards of decent practice. Sometimes ombudsmen award compensation if they agree with a complaint whilst other times they recommend that the accused company accused does so.
Ombudsmen services are free and operate much faster with fewer twists and turns than legal proceedings. However, they do usually stipulate that claimants first pursue all other methods of complaint resolution before calling on their services. There are also time limits of when a case can be taken to an ombudsman of usually between 6 and 12 months.