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Nearly 3,000 of the people surveyed between September 2014 and March 2015 reported much lower levels of satisfaction using an ombudsman for public bodies than for those dealing with complaints in the private sector. The newly-published research is particularly timely given the implementation of a new EU directive requiring that more consumer disputes be resolved outside of courts through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies like ombudsmen.
The report by Dr Naomi Creutzfeldt of Oxford's Centre for Socio-Legal Studies suggests that members of the public who seek help from ombudsmen may have overly optimistic expectations at the outset of what ombudsman staff can do for them. It highlights a need for better training for staff who have the initial contact with members of the public. The report found that the information communicated in the first instance to members of the public was particularly important and staff needed to know how to handle expectations that were simply 'too high'.
The research focuses on ombudsmen covering public cases about local government and parliamentary and health services, as well as complaints in the private sector concerning legal, financial, property, energy and telecoms services. The study says complaints brought to public and private ombudsmen are very different in nature. It compares people's experiences of the overall management of complaints but did not go into the details of individual cases.