New Ombudsman for consumer disputes

Consumer complaints, covering everything from car repairs to home maintenance and retail, will be handled by a new Consumer Ombudsman.

The free online service aims to offer a "swift, independent" resolution to disputes between consumers and organisations providing services. Complaints relating to home maintenance, improvements and installation services, retail, second-hand cars, car repairs and servicing will be considered, but spokespeople for the ombudsman say that 'no problem will be too small'.

The ombudsman service will negotiate with the company on behalf of the consumer, before adjudicating on the matter. If it finds in favour of the consumer, it can demand an apology and explanation as to what went wrong. It can also grant a financial award or compensation.

The service is run by Ombudsman Services, which already handles complaints against mobile phone companies, energy firms as well as property or copyright issues.

Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services said: “Our research shows that as a nation we’re complaining more than ever before, but that frustratingly we don’t always know where to go.

“As a result, we’ve opened our doors to complaints in any sector. This is good for consumers because it will provide swift, independent resolution to a problem without the risk of legal bills and drawn-out court proceedings.

"It’s also good for business as having a proper redress system in place means they will build up consumers' trust.”

Liam Waine, Consumer Dispute Partner at Stephensons, said: "The launch of the new, free Consumer Ombudsman service for these kinds of disputes is an excellent development for consumers.

"It provides an extra avenue for those looking to resolve disputes amicably without the need to incur any fees or endure long legal battles.

"If a company or retailer refuses to follow the new processes, the courts will likely take a dim view of their conduct unless good reason is offered."