Your day in court may not be the best option

Courts can be costly, so you should always check your options
Courts can be costly, so you should always check your options
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There can’t be many of us who haven’t had a spat or two about shoddy goods or services.

From cowboy builders to obtuse bankers, the possibility of conflict is apparently endless.

Many of these everyday disputes end up with the parties wanting their day in court, but battling it out in a courtroom can land you with ruinous costs, and be an extremely stressful experience.

A well-known dispute about a home extension escalated from a claim for £8,000 to counterclaims and costs totalling more than £100,000.

Only the intervention of the High Court prevented the claimants from losing their home to pay the legal costs.

But despite being around for many years, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providing a cheap and comparatively stress-free option to the courts, has hardly taken off.

When reader Amanda Jackson locked horns with tour operator Thomson over a holiday from hell in Tenerife, the company tried to fob her off with a £30 voucher.

She said: ‘I was getting nowhere with them and like most people I was reluctant to go to court.

‘Then Streetwise told me about the ABTA conciliation service, and to my relief and surprise I ended up with nearly £400 in compensation and a full apology.’

The Association of British Travel Agents is one of many trade associations to offer ADR to help painlessly resolve consumer disputes.

If you’re stressed out with the idea of taking a dispute to court, you’ve five main options to consider – Ombudsmen, conciliation, mediation, arbitration, and adjudication.

It’s wise to get legal advice before you decide which choice to go for, but one of them will almost certainly offer a cheaper and far less demanding option than going to law.

Ombudsmen

Investigate and resolve complaints against a wide range of public and private organisations. The Financial Services Ombudsman deals with rough justice dished out by banks and insurance companies, and the Local government Ombudsman can take your local council to task if they abuse their powers. If you have an unresolved dispute, the first stop is to check whether the organisation has a Ombudsman service.

Conciliation

Conciliation involves an impartial third party helping the people in dispute to resolve their problem. The parties are free to agree to the resolution or not. Conciliation can be particularly helpful in resolving consumer, employment, and landlord disputes.

Mediation

Mediation involves an independent third party helping aggrieved parties resolve their dispute. The parties, not the mediator, decide the terms of the agreement. Mediation is now widely accepted as the most popular form of alternative dispute resolution as it offers practical solutions beyond the scope of a court. It is particularly useful in resolving personal injury, clinical negligence, and family breakdown cases.

Arbitration

Arbitration involves an independent, impartial third party to hear both sides in a dispute and come to a decision to resolve it. In most cases the arbitrator’s decision is legally binding on both sides, so it is not possible to go to court if you are unhappy with the decision. It’s particularly useful in complex consumer disputes.

Adjudication

Adjudication involves an expert independent third party considering the claims of both sides and making a decision. Adjudication decisions are usually binding on both parties by prior agreement.

Disputes with builders are initially best dealt with by adjudication rather than the courts as there is a statutory right for consumers to have disputes decided by an adjudicator.

There is usually a right of appeal, but some adjudication schemes don’t offer a fully independent appeal, only to a higher level or alternative expert.