By: MarkJ - 4 February, 2012 (6:17 AM)
uk aaisp broadband ispThe Director of broadband provider AAISP (Andrews & Arnold), Adrian Kennard, has accused the Ofcom approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes (CISAS and Ombudsman Services) of being an "unfair" and "one-side pays regardless" style arbitration system. The situation began after one of AAISP's customers raised a seemingly questionable dispute.

ADR schemes are generally meant to supplement, not replace, an ISPs internal complaints procedures and can only be used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks. The service is free (for consumers) and can order your ISP to either fix the problem or pay compensation. Check out our 'ISP Complaints and Advice' section for more.

Related schemes are a vital last resort for tackling ISPs that don't play fair with their customers, although ISPs are forced to pay the costs regardless of whether or not they win. This encourages ISPs to take complaints seriously and covers the ADR's own costs. Sadly not all complaints that reach an ADR could be considered fair.

Adrian Kennard, Director of AAISP, said:

"ADR is unfair - buy definition - it is a "one-side pays regardless" arbitration scheme unlike the much cheaper country court small claims track where loser pays. We are even tempted to offer customers a scheme where we will pay their fees up front for taking us to court rather than ADR if they have a dispute, after all such a scheme would be a tenth of the cost in most cases."

A seemingly similar situation recently cropped up after one of AAISP's business customers took the ISP to an ADR. The customer asked for 4 x ADSL2+ (Annex M) broadband lines to be bonded for their video streaming system but an error by BT caused a delay with the installation of two lines (installation delays are generally quite common). We note that no firm installation date was ever actually agreed with the customer.

AAISP claims to have gone "well over and above the contractual requirements" to get the problem resolved and the customer allegedly ended up being happy with the service. Shortly after that the same customer raised a dispute, which demanded that the installation price be refunded because of the delay and any lost business incurred (even though 2 lines were already working).

Despite not being in breach of contract and claiming to have "installed the lines and got annex M ... all in time", AAISP still opted to issue a good will credit for £272 and even though they didn't have to (indeed many ISPs would not do that). Months later an ADR case is unexpectedly launched.

Adrian Kennard, Director of AAISP, said:

"The claim says we have been unhelpful and they lost business due to the delays, and states how much they have paid. It also says how much they calculate they should have paid which is £7 less. We told the Ombudsman that £7 was clearly a frivolous claim, and already more than settled, but they are going ahead anyway?!?! Today we sent them the case file - something like 500 pages. Good luck!


A&A have long had concerns over the whole ADR scheme, and this case just shows how it can be abused. A clear case of A&A falling over backwards to help a customer and go way beyond the agreed contract terms, and then having a £350 bill thrown in our faces."

Situations like this are unlikely to convince too many consumers that ADR's are, as a whole, a bad thing. They exist because some ISPs don't play fair with their customers and remain a vital tool, especially for tackling big providers where mistakes can be quite common.

Ultimately we've only heard one side of the story here but Kennard does, as usual, raise some interesting points. At the same time many of the concerns above were expressed to Ofcom during the scheme's creation and we've yet to see anybody present evidence of truly widespread abuse.

Making ADR schemes more efficient, effective and fair for both parties would be advantageous for everybody but right now there's no sign of that happening.
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