In this section, you can find out about the background to the project and what it hopes to achieve.
Photo: Naomi and Chris at a recent workshop on ombuds research at the International Instutute for the Sociology of Law, Onati, Spain.
The project in a nutshell
Is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) resulting in more accessible justice for vulnerable and energy poor consumers? This is the question which the ESRCjustenergy project seeks to answer.
Why study ADR and access to justice?
Consumer disputes are frequently subject to ADR: in 2008, 530,000 cases were referred to ADR in Europe. And yet, only 43% of consumers report that ADR is easy to use. In this context, some have questioned whether ADR is meeting consumer needs. At the same time, debate about access to justice has shifted from a focus on demographic groups (e.g. the poor) to a broader focus on vulnerability. This more challenging concept is the focus of this research.
Why look at these issues in the energy sector?
There are compelling reasons for focusing on the energy sector. First, it is a sector where the European Union has mandated ADR as a means of promoting access to justice. Second, energy consumers are particularly prone to detriment, with 8.9 million problems experienced in the UK in 2015. Third, the consequences of detriment are severe, with 10.8% of the EU’s population living in fuel poverty. Fourth, energy consumers are particularly at risk of vulnerability. Fifth, ADR is an explicit means through which policymakers are seeking to tackle vulnerability. This sector is, therefore, an important site at which access to justice, ADR, and vulnerability intersect.
What does the project hope to contribute?
The research builds on existing scholarship. Its major contribution will be to literature on the role of ADR in access to justice. ADR proponents say it is cheaper, quicker, more accessible. Critics question how accessible it is, and whether it provides access to settlement, not justice. The research will also contribute to literature on dispute system design (DSD) and consumer vulnerability, by exploring how ADR design affects access to justice for the vulnerable.
What methods does the project use?
The research will use mixed methods and investigate six European countries with significant national variations in policy and practice. This design has been developed in partnership with the National Energy Ombudsman Network, If successful, the ultimate outcome of the research will be an enhancement in access to justice for vulnerable and energy poor consumers in the energy market and beyond.
Who is leading the project?
The project is led by Dr Naomi Creutzfeldt and Dr Chris Gill.
Who is funding the project?
The project is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The grant is worth £359,398 and the project is funded for three year between September 2017 and August 2020.