Kent County Council has become the first local authority to be approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute to provide Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services to consumers in a bid to resolve their complaints with traders.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute approves schemes under arrangements delegated to it by the Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
General consumer disputes, including those relating to home maintenance, consumer goods and services will be covered by Kent County Council's ADR scheme, so long as:
- consumers have attempted to resolve the complaint with the trader first;
- the complaint has not already been considered by the courts or another certified ADR provider;
- the claim is worth between £100 and £40,000;
- the claim was referred to the scheme within 12 months of the trader saying that it was unable to resolve the complaint.
New legislation came into effect in October last year requiring UK traders to inform consumers of an approved ADR body to help consumers resolve their complaints, if they have already been through their own customer service procedure. The ADR body must be relevant to the sector in question.
Andy Allen, ADR project leader at the CTSI, said: "Whilst some purchases and services provided can go smoothly, the internet is also peppered with horror stories about things that have gone wrong. CTSI is pleased to see a local authority taking the initiative and becoming the first within its sphere to become an approved ADR scheme.
"Kent County Council ADR is joining an expanding and increasingly effective ADR environment and we hope that it will be the first of many local authorities to either set up such schemes or have existing schemes approved. This approval makes a credible scheme even more credible to traders and consumers alike."
Allen added: "It is generally accepted that consumers are more willing to use Alternative Dispute Resolution processes than to use the court process. It is also accepted that these ADR processes are much better at maintaining, or recovering, a positive relationship between the consumer and trader. That's got to be good news for consumers and traders alike.
"At the moment it's not compulsory for traders to use an ADR scheme, but it is hoped that market forces will encourage more to use them in time. The reality is that most people don't go to court, so this is an alternative to doing nothing. If the trader does use an ADR, however, he is obliged to let consumers know that he does use one."
Mark Rolfe, of Kent County Council said: “Kent County Council is delighted to be the first local authority to achieve approval from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute for our ADR scheme. This scheme will provide a valuable service to both consumers and businesses, helping to resolve issues quickly and effectively.
"As a result we hope that consumers will have even greater confidence to engage with those responsible businesses who use our scheme, safe in the knowledge that there is an independent system in place to resolve issues in the unlikely event that things go wrong.”
The CTSI was appointed by the UK government to audit and approve bodies who meet requirements of the consumer ADR directive.