Retail ombudsman set up to aid consumer disputes
A retail watchdog led by an ombudsman has been set up to resolve disputes between shops and customers.
The service - which is voluntary for retailers - can be used by consumers after they have made a complaint to the company and the issue is not resolved.
Barrister Dean Dunham, who begins work as ombudsman on 1 January, said shoppers who could not afford a lawyer could now use the watchdog instead.
Last year, more than six million complaints were made by consumers.
Most of these were linked to purchases made during the Christmas shopping period.
Mr Dunham said: "In this day and age, with shopping online as well as the high street, there are millions of complaints. A large proportion get resolved, but a large proportion don't.
"Those people are frustrated and they don't know where to turn and can't afford a lawyer. Now they can turn to the ombudsman."
The ombudsman expects to handle about 170,000 complaints, paid for by the retailers who have signed up to the service.
Companies which join the service will pay up to £2,000 a year and £45 for each case that the ombudsman takes on.
According to the service's website, retailers that have already signed up include Debenhams, Mothercare, Halfords, Argos, and Boots.
Mr Dunham, a consumer rights expert, said that retailers which sign up will be demonstrating to the public that they are responsible businesses.
"If your retailer's not part of the scheme, perhaps you should think twice about shopping there, because we are the security blanket," he said.
He is optimistic that retailers will sign up. "Let's face it - it's in all of our interests that consumer rights are observed," he said.
The ombudsman service will be overseen by an independent board chaired by businessman and government adviser Sir Eric Peacock.