Recently, PMM’s Kieran Nee caught up with The Motor Ombudsman’s Chief Ombudsman, Bill Fennell, to discuss the work the organisation does and what it will be focussing on in the future.
Firstly, could you tell us about the Motor Ombudsman?
The Motor Ombudsman was established just over five years ago, becoming the first and only Ombudsman for the automotive sector, after we evolved from Motor Codes – the automotive dispute resolution provider that was setup in 2008. To become an Ombudsman took many months of hard work and the restructuring of our organisation, in order to meet the strict approval and impartiality criteria laid down by the Ombudsman Association.
One of the key roles of the Motor Ombudsman is to drive improvements in the standards of work and customer service within the motor industry as a whole. Much of our work covers new and used vehicle purchases, service and repair, and vehicle warranty issues. The bulk of what we do is resolving motoring-related disputes in a fair and impartial manner, where we gather evidence from both the consumer and business involved in the complaint. A decision is then delivered by our adjudicators and/or an ombudsman based on the facts presented, the guidelines laid down by our Codes of Practice, and any relevant legislation, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Businesses within the automotive sector voluntarily agree to be accredited to one or more of our Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved Codes of Practice. These cover the entire customer purchase and vehicle ownership experience, spanning new car warranties to service and repair, providing reassurance and peace of mind that if something were to go wrong, there is an independent third party that can investigate the dispute and provide a decision. Today, thousands of businesses across the UK are accredited to The Motor Ombudsman.
At what point does a complaint get handed over to the Ombudsman?
A garage has to up to eight weeks to resolve a dispute through their own complaints process. At any point during this period, they can refer the case to The Motor Ombudsman. However, at the eight-week cut-off, the consumer can then bring the case directly to The Motor Ombudsman themselves.
It is of course, always best for a business and consumer to look to resolve a complaint directly in the first instance. If they can’t come to an agreement, this is where we step in as a third-party and fully impartial body to find a fair resolution. It’s worth pointing out that the garage must be accredited to one of our Codes of Practice for the business and consumer to be able to use our service.
For the business, engaging in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is about putting the customer first. The decision might not always go in your favour, but both you and customer can be assured that the dispute has been handled fairly and impartially.
One of the big reasons independent garages pass disputes over to us is that they want to safeguard the relationship with their customer. As with all things, there can be disagreements and unreasonableness from both sides. ADR provides an avenue which can help mitigate any unpleasantness with otherwise loyal customers. Another big factor is the time it can take to deal with complex disputes. Therefore, The Motor Ombudsman offers the chance to help reduce this element of the workload.
Are you receiving more complaints nowadays?
In the last two years there has been a definite increase in the volume of consumers contacting us, either looking for advice or to refer their case. Increasingly, they are looking for compensation. The Motor Ombudsman’s goal however, is to help right the wrongs that have been done. For instance, if you took your car in for a service and it was damaged, we’ll try and rectify that, but we won’t then add an award on top. There is also an onus on a business learning from its mistakes and making improvements, so they don’t make the same error again.
Currently, accreditation to the Motor Ombudsman is voluntary. Are there any plans for this to change?
This is an interesting question because, for some time, BEIS – the Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, has been looking at the effectiveness of ADR in the automotive sector, amongst other sectors, where they feel consumer detriment is particularly high. Used car sales and the service and repair areas generate a high volume of consumer complaints, and therefore BEIS has been collating inputs from industry and consumer groups as to whether it should be mandatory for businesses to sign up to an ADR provider, such as ourselves. Government ministers are currently reviewing the feedback, and we are expecting a decision to be made shortly.
BEIS estimates there are around 63,000 garages up and down the country, including franchise dealers, used car outlets and vehicle repairers. While there is good representation among franchise dealers, I would say a high proportion of garages across the UK are not currently affiliated to any ADR provider, although that probably improves when looking at just the service and repair sector.
How would you “sell” the benefits of the Ombudsman to our readers?
There are of course many benefits of an independent garage being accredited to our Vehicle Sales and Service and Repair Codes, ranging from support from our dispute resolution service, to gaining added exposure and potential customer leads from a profile on our popular online Garage Finder. However, above all, one of the biggest advantages of accreditation that workshops would immediately see is that we alleviate the stress of a customer dispute and help safeguard the long-term relationship with the consumer, thanks to our expert and highly-experienced in-house team.
But what I also think is a big benefit is the fact that you’re clearly demonstrating to consumers that you are a quality business, and are willing to sign up to independent standards and Codes of Practice, which provide the added element of reassurance for your customer that they will receive a high standard of work and service when they bring their car in.
In fact, accreditation to our Service and Repair Code offers great value for money at less than 20+VAT per month, so this is a minimal cost for all-important peace of mind for garages and its customers.