Waterways Ombudsman Scheme FAQs

Where in these FAQs I refer to Member, I mean the Canal & River Trust (The Trust), any of its subsidiaries or the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT). For more details about how the Waterways Ombudsman Scheme operates, please refer to the Rules of the Waterways Ombudsman Scheme March 2024.

What complaints can the Ombudsman deal with?

I can consider complaints about injustice suffered as a result of maladministration or unfair treatment by the Trust. That description includes a wide variety of complaints. It might be about encroaching vegetation if you have adjoining land, mooring rights, marina facilities, boat licensing problems or safety issues. If you are not sure whether I might be able to help, or are seeking general guidance, please feel free to contact me.

How can I contact the Ombudsman or submit a complaint?

You can do so by telephone, post, email, or by submitting an enquiry via the website. Please note that I do work part-time, and may not always be able to respond quickly. If I am going to be away for more than two or three days I generally record an appropriate voicemail response on my phone. Also if I am away I will endeavour to respond to any urgent emails within two to three working days, although I may only be able to provide limited assistance or guidance.

I can accept complaints in English or Welsh, although I do conduct the ADR procedures in English.

For complainants who have no reasonable way of communicating by written means, whether in hard copy or electronically, I can conduct the ADR procedures orally.

If you have any additional needs or require a reasonable adjustment to access or use the service please contact us and we will try and help. 

Complainants do not need to obtain independent advice or be represented or assisted by a third party, although they may choose to do so.

You can find more detail about how to complain here.

Who can complain to the Ombudsman?

I can consider complaints from individuals, that is those who are not acting in the course of a business. I can also consider complaints from any businesses, registered charity or trust whose annual income is less than £6.5m for charities, £4m for trusts or £2m for microentities when they first complained to the Member (except where the complaint concerns the observance or non-observance of the Trust’s Fair Trading Code of Practice in which case there is no annual turnover limit).

The service is free to use for complainants.

What waterways can I complain to the Ombudsman about?

I can deal with complaints about waterways owned and operated by the Members, that is the Canal and River Trust and the Avon Navigation Trust. This excludes a number of major waterways such as the Bridgewater Canal in Cheshire, the Norfolk Broads, and many rivers.

Where can I go if my complaint is not about Trust waterways?

You should first contact the relevant waterway or navigation authority, or look on its website. Some, but not all, have an independent dispute resolution scheme. For waterways which are operated by the Environment Agency, for example, you may be able to take your complaint to the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (http://www.ombudsman.org.uk/).

When can I bring a complaint to the Ombudsman?

I cannot consider a complaint until you have first given the Member the opportunity to investigate it. You can find details of how to make a complaint about the Trust at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/contact-us/making-a-complaint. If you have completed the Trust’s complaints process, and are still not satisfied, you have up to 12 months from the date of the Trust’s second level response to ask me to consider your complaint.

Can the Ombudsman refuse to consider a complaint?

In certain circumstances, yes, such as where the complaint has not first been investigated by the Member, or where it is more than 12 months since the Member completed its own investigation. I can also refuse to deal with a complaint which has already been considered by another body, such as the Charities Commission or the Courts. For more information see paragraph 32 of the Rules of the Waterways Ombudsman March 2024.  If I decide not to consider a dispute submitted to me I will tell the parties within three weeks of receiving the Complaint File, which is the information I have received from the consumer and from the trader.

What happens if there is a conflict of interest?

It is possible that a conflict of interest may arise, for example if the Ombudsman knows the complainant in some other capacity, or has an interest in the complaint other than in her capacity as the Ombudsman. The likelihood of this occurring is very low, and it has not happened yet, but the possibility does exist. Paragraph 33 of the Rules of the Waterways Ombudsman Scheme March 2024 states that where an actual or potential conflict of interest arises in relation to a complaint, and there is nobody else available to consider the complaint, the Waterways Ombudsman shall explain to both parties the circumstances of the conflict of interest, that they have a right to object to him/her continuing to handle their dispute and that he/she can continue with the complaint only if no party objects. The Waterways Ombudsman will maintain a record of any actual or potential conflicts of interest.

If the Ombudsman decides to investigate a complaint, how long will it take?

I will notify the parties of my decision within 90 days of receiving the evidence from both parties, as well as any third party evidence or expert opinion. If, in the case of complex disputes, I need to extend the time for investigation, I will notify the parties, and will tell them how much longer I expect the investigation to take. The outcome will be sent to both sides by post or email, as preferred. 

In the 12 months to 30 September 2023, the average length of time to complete a consumer complaint, from making the decision to open the investigation, to issuing the final decision, was 50 days, but that includes complex cases. Once I receive sufficient information from the complainant to make a decision on whether to open an investigation, it may take only a few days to reach my decision.

What about the EU GDPR, and is information treated as confidential?

In carrying out my work I need to handle various information, mainly about complainants and their complaints. Some of it is personal information covered by the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Ombudsman is registered with the Information Commissioner as a Data Controller and complies with the DPA. Under the GDPR, the Ombudsman is a data controller and a data processor.

Some information will need to be disclosed or shared during the course of considering complaints. The basis on which this is done is explained at http://www.waterways-ombudsman.org/about-us/data-protection/.

There are occasions when I receive information which a party has asked not to be disclosed. If it seems that it may be necessary, or at least helpful, to disclose any such information to another party in order to complete an investigation I will seek the permission of the party providing the information. There may be circumstances where consent is not given, but my primary duty is to comply with the DPA and the GDPR.

Can the parties withdraw from the process once the ADR procedure has started?

A complainant is free to withdraw a complaint at any time, although once I have issued a draft decision, following an investigation, I will generally proceed to a final decision. If a complainant does withdraw, they will be free to consider other ways of resolving their dispute. The Members cannot withdraw from the process.

What principles will the Ombudsman apply in resolving a dispute?

I will base my decision on what is fair and reasonable, taking into account the principles of natural justice and transparency. I shall have regard to the law, any relevant and generally accepted Code of Practice, and any relevant terms and conditions of the Members. This means that an outcome of an ombudsman’s investigation may not be the same as one made by a court.  

During an investigation will the Ombudsman make a site visit if necessary?

Yes. It is sometimes the case that I cannot fully appreciate a situation unless I have seen it for myself, and I have visited complainants and locations where it was clearly important to do so.

Do I need to seek legal advice?

Almost certainly not. However, if you do wish to do so you may seek independent advice or be represented or assisted by a third party at any stage of the procedure.

Do I have to accept the Ombudsman's decision?

No. If you decide not to accept it you may pursue your complaint by other means, such as the courts. If you do accept it, the Member must carry out any recommendations included in the report.

What if I have a complaint about the Ombudsman or the scheme?

If you have a complaint about the service, you can ask the independent Chair of the Scheme to consider it. They cannot consider an appeal against the decision, but they can consider complaints about the service or the process. You should submit any complaint via the Ombudsman, who will forward it to the Chair. 

The Chair determines if a service complaint has validity, if so, they will investigate and respond to you via the Ombudsman. If the complaint falls outside the scope of what can be considered, is deemed vexatious or is an attempt to reverse the Ombudsman decision then the Chair will reject the complaint, advise you accordingly of the reason and deem the matter closed. You will receive notification of their decision via the Ombudsman. There will be no further correspondence from the Chair about the service complaint unless significant new information comes to light. New information must be genuinely new, and information which was not available at the time the complaint was first made to the Chair. This is not an opportunity to engage in ongoing dialogue or to add in additional issues. The Chairs' determination that a matter is closed is final and there is no opportunity to appeal or take the matter further.

 Can I speak to the Chair or write to them direct?

 All correspondence to and from the Chair goes via the Ombudsman email, enquiries@waterways-ombudsman.org for auditing purposes.

April 2024