Alternative Dispute Resolution, a broken system

Well, I am faced with a slight dilemma and it makes me realise how broken OFCOMs idea of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process is.

The ideas is that consumers should have a way to raise a dispute with a telco at absolutely no risk to them. They should be able to take disputes to ADR and not have to pay at all even if they are wrong. The telco pays regardless.

As a telco I see this as a mad and clearly unfair system. Without it we have the county courts. The courts are cheap. You can go on-line and file a claim and pay on a card. It is (was) around £30 for small amounts. What is clever is that you don't really risk any more than you pay to claim. If you win you get it added to the claim. If you lose you don't get a huge bill for fees and solicitors from the other side. I actually like the county court system.

ADR is silly. For a start we have to pay each year to join a scheme. Then we have to pay for each case, win or lose! Also, courts are enforced either way. If we go to ADR and win, not only do we pay, but the other party does not have to accept the judgement, so if they owe us we have to go on to court as well.

Anyway, this dilemma... I have a customer that thinks he ceased a line. He does not know when. Claims he did it on-line but has no order confirmation. Sounds like he did not cease it. Terms are crystal clear - you may have to prove you asked us to stop but we'll provide a clear receipt (order confirmation) to make it easy to prove. Everyone knows where they stand.

So we think he owes us for the last invoice. He thinks we owe him some previous bills back. He did in fact wait over 3 months to say he thought he had ceased!

We are now stuck. I now *have* to take him to court. I would personally not be too unhappy to write off what he has not paid. It is not much. But if I don't take him to court he can take us to ADR! If I do take him to court he can't take us to ADR. Thankfully court trumps ADR.

So now we are in the situation where the only way to protect ourselves from costly ADR claim (even if we win) is to take the customer to court (which blocks use of ADR). Even if we do not turn up and file a claim by post, and lose, it is less loss than ADR would be if we won!

So insisting on ADR is forcing us to take some poor customer to court over a small debt.

Crazy broken system. Well done OFCOM!


  1. any way to see if this customer used the services (and not just to test if they were still live) in the three months since he suggests he ceased?

    having to go to court to save yourself a ADR faff about really sucks, for both parties

  2. Looks like there were not using it, now. Sadly we still have to pay BT for the line, etc, so not a big help. And yes, it sucks.

  3. No, it's not a big help, but if the customer had used the line in that time then at least that would lend weight to a defence for charging them, obviously not using the line doesn't add weight to their defence at all really, but it would help you if it were the other way round.

    I once had a issue with a .nl based hosting company trying to charge me for hosting i'd cancelled four years previously, the attempted bill was for the rental for all that time and the added costs of them tracking me down since i'd moved house. thank goodness I'd still got emails from them confirming account cancellation - not many people would keep emails like that for so long!

  4. Indeed - one of the first things we checked as being used would have been a big help to the argument.

    We pre-empted this, or rather reacted to simlar questions many years ago by making it the customers responsibility to prove they asked for the cease. This could be seen as unfair (which is where it gets interesting) to to even things up a bit we provide a receipt (and order confirmation) and even an un-refutable digitally signed email confirming the request. The customer had ceased lines before so not he did not know the process.

    TBH I think we have an air tight case when considering the contract terms and the vagueness of the customer. I suspect ADR would be way less certain as I have heard horror stories from other ISPs with air tight contracts dismissed by ADR. This is hearsay, but they seem to weigh up what seems fair to them, not what was contractually agreed. But having to pay even if we win ADR is crazy, IMHO.

  5. Just write it off... surely your time in just putting finger to keyboard in your above rant is worth more than the amount you might lose?


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