Defining Consumer Ombudsmen: A Report for Ombudsman Services
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Gill, C. & Hirst, C. (2016) Defining Consumer Ombudsmen: A Report for Ombudsman Services. Warrington: Ombudsman Services.
This report seeks to describe consumer ombudsmen as they have developed in the United Kingdom. The recent European Union Directive on Consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution (2013/11/EU) defines consumer dispute resolution mechanisms in general, but does not distinguish between them individually. It does not, for instance, distinguish between consumer ombudsmen, arbitrators and adjudication schemes. Other existing approaches to definition, such as the Ombudsman Association's criteria for 'ombudsman membership', provide principles for ombudsmen in general, but do not distinguish between public ombudsmen and consumer ombudsmen. Our task in this report, therefore, has been to describe the distinguishing features of consumer ombudsmen. Our approach, rather than seeking to provide a definition, has been to describe the key characteristics of consumer ombudsmen through comparison with other forms of dispute resolution and to situate consumer ombudsmen within the broader consumer protection landscape. Our view is that the fundamentally hybrid nature of consumer ombudsmen, combined with broader developments in the ombudsman and consumer dispute resolution landscape, have led to a lack of clarity and confusion in relation to the nature of consumer ombudsmen.