January is a month where people are looking to make resolutions, a change for the better. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) works along similar lines. In the automotive industry, the objective of ADR is to achieve a fair conclusion to a dispute between a motor trader and consumer, without having to refer it to court, which can be costly in monetary terms, and in time, for everyone involved.
As a Trading Standards-approved ADR provider, The Motor Ombudsman has a team of legally-trained adjudicators whose job it is to establish what has happened, and, if something has gone wrong, to make sure that it’s put right. To get the resolution process under way, the adjudicator will need to understand:
- Whether the business that a customer has a complaint about, i.e. a garage, a dealer or a warranty provider, is accredited to a Motor Ombudsman Code of Practice, and
- If the dispute is not already being reviewed by another Ombudsman or legal institution.
A case can only be raised once the trader has been given a period of eight weeks to attempt to sort out the issue, and, if an agreement cannot be reached, they have set out their final position in writing.
If a garage isn’t signed up to The Motor Ombudsman, an adjudicator will always point the consumer as to where to go next, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), The Consumer Ombudsman or The Financial Ombudsman, where they may be able to seek help to resolve their problem.
The time it takes for The Motor Ombudsman to resolve a complaint can vary depending on how complex the case is. “Early Resolution” is where an adjudicator will try to resolve things more informally by getting both parties to agree to a mutually acceptable solution, and this can take a matter of days. Otherwise, the procedure can span a few weeks whilst the necessary evidence is gathered. This can include, but is not limited to, an Independent Technical Report commissioned by the vehicle owner, the sourcing of any servicing records, invoices and correspondence from the garage, as well as the relevant terms and conditions. These documents are then used to build the overall picture to help them come to their conclusion.
If the consumer and the business accept the outcome of the adjudicator, the case is considered resolved and closed. On the other hand, if one of the parties disagrees, the case will pass to The Motor Ombudsman’s in-house Ombudsman for a final decision. This is the last stage of involvement of the organisation, and the Ombudsman’s role is to consider all of the facts of the case to date, plus any new information which has come to light. All data is reviewed independently of the adjudicators to eliminate any possibility of bias.
In the event that the customer accepts this final decision, the business must abide by its obligations to provide whichever remedy has been awarded, as they have agreed to the terms and conditions of becoming accredited to The Motor Ombudsman. On the flipside, a case remains “unresolved” if a consumer does not accept the Ombudsman’s decision. It’s then up to the individual to pursue the business in court, where the judge rules in favour of one of the parties, after taking into account the outcome of the ADR process.
At the end of the day, whether it’s a personal resolution, or the resolution of a dispute, the end goal is all about improving the current situation, and determining a positive way forward. It’s just the journey to get there that requires the effort to be put in, but it’s worth it in the long run.