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Resolving Disputes


Initial Stages

If you do find yourself in a situation that you are not happy with the goods or services that you have paid for, the first thing to do is speak to the trader concerned.  If you speak on the telephone, make sure you keep a note of who you spoke to, the date and time, and what was said.  It is always advisable to put a complaint in writing and keep a copy (this can be letter or email).

You should set out clearly what the issue is, and what you wish the trader to do about it and by when, but you need to be realistic in both your expectations of what can be done, and when by.

If the trader does not reply, it is always recommended that a follow up letter be sent – it could be the case that the first one was not received.

If you still get no response, then you may need to consider your options.

Is the trader part of an adjudication or ombudsman service?

If not, you may consider threatening legal proceedings – if you do, then you need to follow the Civil Procedure on Pre-Action Conduct .  If your claim is for £10,000 or less then you can bring a claim in the Small Claims Court.  Anything above this amount, or if the claim is very complicated (such as building disputes) then you should seek legal advice before issuing any proceedings.

Trade Associations

Many traders belong to Trade Associations and you may write to them setting out your complaint against the trader.  However, the Trade Association may not be able to intervene on your behalf.  On the other hand, it may have an adjudication service.

Adjudication or Ombudsman Services

If you refer a complaint to an adjudication or ombudsman service, in most cases the decision will be binding on the trader, but not on you.  Many schemes are free to use and quicker than referring a matter to court.  If you are not happy with the decision then you can still bring a claim in the County Court.

For goods purchased by credit card or finance agreement

If your claim has been rejected by the trader then you should consider making a claim against the finance company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.  If the finance company reject the claim then you can refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service and its decision is not binding on you, but is binding on the finance provider.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

ADR is a process which enables disputes to be settled via an independent mechanism without the need to go to court.

You should always consider whether there are any other forms of ADR that could be used.

As of 9th July 2015, as part of the new reforms being introduced by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which will come fully into force on the 1st October 2015, ADR will be available to all businesses to assist whenever a dispute with one of their customers cannot be settled directly.

Holiday Complaints

Depending on the complaint, you may be able to refer your claim to the Civil Aviation Authority or to ABTA If you refer a complaint to ABTA the decision is binding on you, as well as the company.

Small Claims Court

Before issuing proceedings, you should first issue a pre-action letter.  If you do not, you may be asked to pay some of the trader’s legal costs, even if you win your case.

If you have a claim of £10,000 or less, in most cases you can use the small claims court (although a claim may be lower than this limit, if it is very complicated it may be referred to the Fast or Multi-Track system – if you are unsure, seek legal advice before issuing the proceedings).

Most consumer claims will have to be issued in the court within 6 years of the date of the purchase, or the date of the breach of contract is respect of services.  The general rule is that each party will pay their own legal costs but the court has discretion to award costs in some cases.

Before you issue proceedings, read the website for an overview of the process

To make a money claim you can either use the Money Claim Online service or submit a claim form to the County Court Money Claims Centre, PO Box 527, Salford M5 0BY.

There are court fees to pay – when you issue, at allocation, if there are any applications to be made, and before the hearing (  if you win your case, these fees are added to the amount that you are claiming against the trader).

In most cases, once you have issued, you will be offered the chance of referring the case to mediation – a free service offered by the court.  If a settlement cannot be reached, most cases are heard within 30 weeks of the issue of proceedings.