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'Complaining Cow' warns of property redress chaos

A consumer champion says a new privatised system of Alternative Dispute Resolution, being introduced in October, threatens to create ‘complaints chaos’ - with the property industry at the forefront of possible confusion.

Consumer right campaigner Helen Dewdney, author of a blog called The Complaining Cow, says from October 1 a new EU-mandated system of private ombudsmen comes into effect across various industries.

This will encourage more private companies to handle consumer complaints in sectors including retail, aviation and furniture and property. on The Radio 4 consumer show You & Yours, Dewdney suggested there may be additional redress bodies within the property sector as a result of the change in regulations.

On her blog, Dewdney says the fact that there are currently three ombudsmen in the property sector is already confusing with The Property Ombudsman, Property Redress System and Ombudsman Services: Property vying for agents and other property professional clients. 

Under the new provisions, Dewdney says there will be no criminal records checks for ombudsmen employees or directors, and there will be no “ombudsman of ombudsmen”. In other words, the body responsible setting up these Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes - the Trading Standards Institute - has no consumer complaints system of its own.

Dewdney calls the duplication and rivalry between different ombudsmen in the same sector an “ombudsman omnishambles”.

“If an ADR regime is to work well for consumers it needs a single ombudsman per sector, a clear code of practice and independent oversight” she says.

The government - which has approved all three current property redress schemes - says a proliferation of competing ombudsman services will drive up redress standards.

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