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information for businesses covered by the ombudsman service

This section answers a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about:

how we decide cases

hearings

why don't you have a hearing in every case? I thought this was necessary to comply with human rights law.

We are an alternative to the court system. Our aim is to resolve disputes as quickly, cost-effectively and informally as we can.

We can nearly always get to the bottom of complaints - and recommend solutions or make decisions - on the basis of the information, facts and arguments that each side gives us in writing and on the phone.

Some people might want their "day in court" - to personally cross-examine the other party and challenge the ombudsman in person. But we do not operate as a traditional court of law. We do not have the power to compel the attendance of witnesses, take evidence on oath or test evidence by cross-examination.

It's only very rarely that we consider oral hearings necessary or helpful. In the small number of cases where we decide to hold an oral hearing, the ombudsman who conducts the hearing decides what procedure to follow and what questions to ask. The ombudsman ensures that neither side is intimidated or disadvantaged by the process.

The costs involved in organising and holding hearings is another reason why this is not a standard part of our process.

We are satisfied that our approach to oral hearings complies with human rights requirements – and a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights in June 2011 (Heather Moor & Edgecomb Ltd v the United Kingdom, application no. 1550/09) concluded that, "the fact that proceedings are of considerable significance for an applicant [...] is not decisive for the necessity of a hearing ... The court accepts that the relevant issues of fact and law could be adequately addressed in, and decided on the basis of, written submissions."

For more details see our special factsheet:

a quick guide to hearings