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Vickers confirmed as head of Ombudsman Services

Ombudsman Services | Dec 03, 2018

The new head of the UK’s largest multi-sector ombudsman says the organisation is modernising and innovating in order to stay relevant to consumers and businesses.

Matthew Vickers has been confirmed as chief executive and chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, succeeding Lewis Shand-Smith who is standing down after 10 years.

Ombudsman Services settles disputes in sectors including energy and communications, investigating unresolved complaints and offering consumers a free alternative to court.

Its decisions are binding when accepted by a consumer, meaning the business must comply.

Vickers, a former Foreign Office diplomat and retail industry executive, joined the not-for-profit outfit in 2015 as deputy chief executive and deputy chief ombudsman.

The transition plan under which he has succeeded Shand-Smith was announced earlier this year. Vickers said:

“The work we do at Ombudsman Services is important. It matters to consumers and businesses.

“Fundamentally, however, the ombudsman model of dispute resolution hasn’t changed in 50 years so it’s ripe for modernisation.

“In a digital world where consumers can get problems fixed instantly by complaining to a business on social media, we must embrace change.

“We’re doing exactly that, for example by making it quicker and easier for consumers to bring their complaint to us on our newly-relaunched and more accessible website,

“As well as streamlining the process of making a complaint, we’ve created a digital, efficient and transparent way of resolving complaints in a new case management system.

“We’re engaging with businesses in new and exciting ways, for example by launching new products and delivering actionable data insights.

“Our aim is to help businesses improve their complaints-handling process and customer service more generally, so they can retain more customers and ultimately become more successful.”

Based in Daresbury, Cheshire, Ombudsman Services resolved more than 90,000 consumer complaints last year and has handled more than 1.3 million cases in total.

Founded in 2002, it is the single ombudsman for the energy sector and is one of two Ofcom-approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers in the communications sector.

Since 2015 the organisation has administered the Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) scheme for the British Parking Association.

Vickers added:

“Ours is an unusual business, in that in an ideal world we wouldn’t need to exist.

“Consumers would never experience problems, or at least any problems would always be put right immediately by the provider.

“Unless and until we create this nirvana of a world free from consumer detriment, our role as an ombudsman is to be a fair, impartial and independent voice that is trusted by consumers and businesses alike to resolve disputes.

“To fulfil this role, we need to be accessible to all and relevant in a digital world. That’s why we’re investing to create an ombudsman that’s fit for the future.”