Ombudsman Services SBE0066

Written evidence submitted by Ombudsman Services


1. General comments


1.1 We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry intoSustainability of the Built Environment. This submission highlights some areas we think are worth consideration for this inquiry. As this inquiry progresses, we would be happy to provide further data and insights to the Committee that we consider useful and to provide oral evidence if appropriate.


2. About Ombudsman Services


2.1 Ombudsman Services is a not-for-profit private limited company established in 2002 which runs a range of discrete national Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes across different sectors, including the sole ADR scheme in the energy sector, the Ofgem-approved Energy Ombudsman. We also operate in the communications sector and run an appeals service in private parking. Each scheme is funded by the companies under our jurisdiction and our service is free to consumers. In 2019 we received 157,808 initial contacts from complainants and resolved 88,840 complaints. In the energy sector we received 116,700 initial contacts and resolved 58,034 cases, and in the communications sector, we received 40,184 initial contacts and resolved 17,426 cases. We also received over 84,000 appeals in our private parking appeals service.


3. How we operate


3.1 We operate at a critical juncture between suppliers, consumers and the government to resolve complaints and mediate disputes. Our work covers key areas of infrastructure, from smart meters and energy networks to 5G and fibre broadband. In order to streamline our work in the energy sector, we operate a tripartite model between ourselves, Ofgem and Citizens Advice. This enables clear communication and the sharing of data and insights to help deliver better innovation and competition that results in positive outcomes for consumers. This practice enables us to drive up standards in the industry by encouraging collaborative approaches to making improvements, managing expectations and informing policy.


3.2 We invest heavily in building this data and insights capability. Our focus has become more explicitly systemic and preventative as we have built up expertise in understanding where consumer trust is under threat and how best we can work with industry, regulators and policymakers to recover it.


4. Responses to particular matters


4.1 Reaching the ambitious net zero target by 2050 and reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 will require a cross-sector response to the climate emergency. It also makes sense to look at the construction and whole life carbon impact of new buildings, particularly with the plan to plan to build 300,000 homes per year. Reaching net zero will be achieved by complementing what happens in and around the home - decarbonising heat (heat networks, heat pumps, and energy efficiency measures etc), with appropriate retrofitting for older homes and with new homes that can be built in a sustainable way.


4.2 We think it is important that consumers have the appropriate level of support and information around green infrastructure when becoming new homeowners or moving to more sustainably built properties. Just as consumers need information for how to make their homes energy efficient, we think this extends to ensuring that consumers understand the benefits of homes built in a more sustainable way, so that they can make appropriate choices for where they live. There must be appropriate standards in place for the building of these homes. Homeowners must also have access to redress when things go wrong. By providing consumers with relevant information so that they can make informed decisions, whilst knowing they are protected as consumers and have access to redress if things go wrong, will help to build the trust and confidence that consumers will need to make the changes needed to reach net zero.


Ombudsman Services


May 2021