Consumer redress comes under the remit of Margot James MP at The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy - this is the department which is responsible for making British business better, making it more competitive, allowing innovation.  This is also the department responsible for Outer Space (see the Outer Space Act 1986). 

 

I’ve always been a strong fan of this department, not just because I like Outer Space, but because I am a fierce believer in the right to compete.  I believe that competition is vital in order to promote innovation, control quality and control how much it costs to supply a service effectively.

 

Competition though has not always been welcomed back on Planet ADR.. 

 

I have found that in most places I have worked they have been happy for me to compete with others but then unhappy when faced by competition from others.

 

I maintain my stance though, and I have never personally supported claims from parts of the ADR community that that there should only be one ADR provider in a sector, claiming it is detrimental to consumers if there is more than one - I just don't agree.  

 

Competition is good, and as long as government, regulators and businesses do their jobs properly, competition does not drive the market to its lowest common denominator, as some claim.  It should do the opposite - it should increase standards and decrease the price the scheme costs to the business and ultimately to the consumer (remember, nothing is really free - some ADR schemes are free at the point of delivery - like the NHS - but at the end of the day they are funded by consumer bills).  

 

The best thing about competition is choice.  Without competition bodies grow too big and too powerful and can - even accidentally - start to act like a monopoly and become part of the problem rather than a way to fix it. Prices rise and performance slips in the knowledge that there is no alternative for the business - not only the business suffers in those cases, but the consumer does too and that that can't be right.

 

There is a common argument that competition leads to customer confusion, but I don't really buy that either.  If I have a dispute with a company I complain to them, they either agree or disagree and, if they are committed to customer service and retaining my custom, at the right time they tell me which ADR body to complain to.  The fact that there could be two or more they use is not relevant as long as they tell me the right one to go to at the time we reach deadlock.  

 

For the company they often don’t get a choice as there is not always competition allowed in a sector.  Regulated financial services and regulated energy are two examples of sectors where companies have no choice.

 

I believe that businesses should be allowed to choose as long as all providers are monitored properly and their performance is genuinely monitored and assessed.  If they could choose I bet more cases would go to ADR as the cost would not be a barrier to business and those playing "the numbers game" would fall away.  That would be better for everyone.

 

With increased market competition I am sure some of our ADR providers could innovate more, provide more cost-effective options for consumers and for businesses and make the UK the leader in consumer ADR provision.  They might not reach Outer Space, but they could certainly provide services to consumers and businesses which are out of this world.

Founder of Gregory Hunt Mediation providing Ombudsman Services and Commercial Mediation.