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How an arbitrator decides the outcome of a consumer complaint

This advice applies to England

Arbitration is a way of settling a consumer dispute between you and the trader without having to go to court. You both put your case to an independent person called an arbitrator. The arbitrator listens to both sides, looks at the evidence you've sent in and decides what the outcome should be.

When the arbitrator makes a decision, this is called an award and it is legally binding. If you don’t agree with the decision, you can’t take your case to court unless you need to make the trader pay what they owe you. Both you and the trader have to stick to the terms of the award and pay any money that is owed.

Many trade associations offer arbitration under a code of practice to help you settle the problem. This page deals with what happens when the arbitrator makes a decision after you've used this service.

The arbitrator’s decision

When the arbitrator has got all the evidence, they will consider the complaint based only on the written claim and supporting evidence. Sometimes you or the trader may be asked to send in further details. Sometimes the arbitrator may visit you and inspect the goods or service you’re complaining about.

It is rare for the arbitrator to arrange a hearing. This will only happen if the case is so complex that the written evidence is not enough to decide the outcome. However, if this happens the arbitrator may decide the case should go to court instead. If it does, your fee will be returned.

The arbitrator can ask a technical expert to help make the decision or to provide a report about the claim. The trade association usually arranges this and you won’t have to pay for the expert’s opinion or report. You and the trader will be sent copies of any expert report and will have 14 days to make comments.

You can usually expect to hear the arbitrator’s decision two to three weeks after they’ve looked at the evidence. You and the trader will each be sent a copy of the decision. It will contain the reasons why the decision was made and details of any compensation to be awarded. Unless your claim was for less than £5,000, both you and the trader must abide by the decision.

If you win the case

You will usually be awarded compensation. This is called an award. The arbitrator can decide that the trader should also pay your fee for registering the claim for arbitration. You may also be entitled to any interest on the claim, which will be paid from the date the award is made until the date the money is actually paid to you.

You won’t be able to claim any other costs, such as the fee for getting an expert’s opinion if you paid for it yourself.

The trader has 21 days to pay you what you’re owed. If you don’t get the money, contact the trade association with a copy of the arbitrator’s decision. The trade association can try to make the trader pay but they can’t force them to do it. They can, however, threaten to expel them from the trade association if they don’t follow the arbitrator’s decision.

If the trader still doesn’t pay, you will have to get the decision enforced in the county court. You won’t have to prove your case again.

If you lose the case

If you lose the case you will have to pay the trader’s fee for going to arbitration as well as your own fee. You won’t have to pay any costs the trader ran up preparing their defence.

It’s very hard to challenge a decision the arbitrator has made. You can’t appeal if you simply disagree with the decision. You can appeal to the High Court within 28 days if there was something wrong with the way the case was handled. For example you suspect fraud or bribery or there was a mistake in the way the law was applied to your case.

Next steps

Using Alternative Dispute Resolution to solve your consumer problem
Using arbitration to solve your consumer problem
Making a claim for arbitration under a code of practice
If you need more help

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