The Ombudsman has been set up for the retailer industry and it is open for any retailer to join. It says 3000 already have but there is no list of members on its website.
Like other Ombudsmen services, you can only use the service if you have already made a complaint through the retailer’s own complaints procedure. The website will help with that process for about 100 of the bigger High Street stores and has direct links to put your complaint to them.
Which companies are covered by the retail Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman can take complaints about any firm which sells goods or services to individuals, including shops, gyms, supermarkets, garden centres, or petrol stations. It does not deal with a business which is already covered by another Ombudsman scheme, such as financial services, property, utilities, solicitors, accountants, builders and car outlets. It also covers sales through websites that are based in the UK.
Complaints can cover any aspect of the sale including refunds, delivery, faulty descriptions and clarity of pricing.
How does the complaint process work?
Like most Ombudsmen, the decision is a two stage process. The initial ruling is made by a caseworker.
If you or the retailer disagrees with that decision, then it can be referred to an Ombudsman. The Ombudsmen are all qualified lawyers with experience in consumer law and redress schemes. They will then make the final decision. Retailers who are members have to follow the Ombudsman’s ruling. If the ruling is in your favour, you cannot take your complaint to court. If the ruling goes in favour of the retaile and you disagree, then you have the option to take the retailer to court.
You can also complain about retailers who are not members. The Ombudsman will write to the retailer asking it to follow its advice but it is not binding on non-members.
Are there any restrictions about the complaints the Ombudsman will deal with?
A complaint must be about something that has happened since 1 December 2014 and you have to give the firm eight weeks to respond.
The service is free to customers but member firms pay an annual fee of between £100 and £2600, depending on size. They are also charged £45 for each valid complaint processed by the Ombudsman
The Retail Ombudsman expects to be busy - there were nearly seven million unresolved complaints about retailers in 2013 and the Ombudsman expects to take more than 100,000 complaints this year.
Haven't contacted the retailer yet? Read our guide to complaining successfully.