What is an arbitrator?
An arbitrator is an independent person or body who is officially appointed to settle a dispute. In essence, an arbitrator is a ‘judge’ who considers the evidence of both parties in a dispute, makes an assessment of the evidence, and provides a resolution. Arbitrations are legally binding upon the parties and can only be overturned by the Court of Appeal. As an arbitrator, I consider the written evidence alone, without oral submissions of the parties, or the opportunity to cross-examine the parties.
Who uses arbitration?
Arbitration is a form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution). Many companies are members of ADR schemes, although it is not compulsory, and those companies which subscribe to ADR agreed to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator. Arbitration is offered by companies and show a moral and ethical commitment to ensure fairness and transparency to their customers. Customers will be referred to arbitration once the company’s own internal dispute resolution process has been exhausted, and it is a cost effective way of the parties reaching a legal, fair and reasonable, resolution.
When a dispute with a retailer reaches an impasse, a consumer may proceed with arbitration. However, the consumer must have already lodged a complaint with the company concerned, that company must subscribe to arbitration, and either eight weeks must have elapsed since lodging the complaint, or the consumer must have received a ‘deadlock’ letter setting out the company’s final position.
What are the benefits of arbitration?
Decisions are written by an independent person or body and are therefore impartial. The cost of arbitration to the consumer is either free or nominal, compared to other forms of redress (such as legal action or court proceedings).. Timescales are also favourable, with decisions in arbitration being provided much quicker than other forms of redress.
What evidence do I need to provide in arbitration?
When taking your case to arbitration, you are acting as a ‘litigant in person’ (i.e. representing yourself) and it is therefore essential that you make sure you are fully prepared. As I have said before, the arbitrator’s job is to assess the evidence, as a judge would, and you should therefore consider what evidence you would be expected to provide if you were taking the matter to court. With this in mind, you can ensure you have all the relevant evidence in support of your claim, and have it collated in an orderly manner.
When writing arbitrations, it is always useful for the claimant to provide a concise timeline outlining the essential elements of the complaint. This would include the purchase date, whether purchased online or in store, the cost, what the issue is (whether the goods are faulty, not fit for purpose etc.), when the issue was first discovered, and what remedy is being sought. It is essential that as much evidence as possible is provided, including proof of purchase, photographs, call recordings etc.. Remember, the arbitrator is considering the case not only on the legal position, but on the basis of who has the burden of proof (i.e. who has the responsibility of proving the case, what is fair and reasonable, and therefore evidence is of paramount importance and can make or break a case.
Consumers often add consequential losses to their claims and, whilst many companies have policies which do not provide for such claims, as an arbitrator it is within my remit to make an award where I deem it is justified. However, is it simply insufficient to claim £x on the basis of suffering stress and inconvenience and any ‘losses’ sustained, must be proven and properly quantified. If a consumer alleges they lost a day’s work as a consequence of an issue with their complaint, then they must prove it!. Likewise, if any damage is caused to property, they must prove it occurred as a direct result of the issue in question, and also provide a formal quotation for putting matters right.
Often with more expensive purchases, it is necessary to obtain an independent inspection report in order to satisfy the burden of proof and prove the case. Whilst such reports are expensive, if I were to find in favour of a consumer (and they had commissioned such a report), I would award the cost of that report along with the remedy. Accordingly, if your case is worth pursuing, then such a report should be considered as an essential outlay. It is also worth mentioning that inspections should be carried out by an ‘independent accredited professional’ and this does not mean a potential competitor of the retailer, who might have a vested interest in finding in favour of the consumer!
Remember, arbitration is your opportunity to prove your case and achieve the remedy to which you are entitled. It is essential therefore that you give it your all and put your best foot forward.