Consumers should be able to avoid 'costly court hearings’ through better access to high quality alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, a government consultation on moderinising consumer markets has recommended. 

In a paper published yesterday the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it wants people to feel confident about pursuing complaints under a ‘strong set of consumer rights’.

The paper recommends three principles for an effective modern consumer market: competition to drive innovation, new technology that works in favour of the customer, and redress for when things go wrong.

Under ‘redress’ the government says it wants to improve consumers’ awareness of and access to ADR. According to the paper, ‘The government believes more can be done to give consumers access to high quality dispute resolution services and to avoid costly court hearings and will help consumers enforce their rights by,’ the paper said.

Accompanying the consultation, a study assessing the effectiveness of ADR claimed that 62% of consumers who had been through ADR found the process simple, compared with 53% of those who went through the courts.

In cases where the ADR provider decided in favour of the consumer, 83% of consumers perceived the process to be fair. This dropped to 17% in cases where the decision was against the consumer or ended in compromise. A similar, but less extreme, variation was seen for consumers who had opted for the courts (90% v 53%).

The interviewed 200 consumers who had used ADR services as well as 200 consumers and 176 traders who had used the court system.

The government also sought to interview solicitors. However, of 15 contacted, only three agreed to an interview, the study states. The government said the aim of the interviews was to understand the types of cases often brought to courts whether traders comply with court rulings and suggestions for how the system can be improved.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks.