National chambers Clerksroom has announced a partnership with a not-for-profit business that describes itself as the biggest multi-sector ombudsman in the UK, to provide commercial dispute resolution services for up to 10,000 businesses.
Ombudsman Services (OS) provides private sector dispute resolution services to tens of thousands of consumers across the country every year, particularly in the energy, property and communications sectors.
OS is launching a new service today, in partnership with Clerksroom, for disputes between companies. Ombudsman Services Business to Business aims to cover “a wide spectrum of disputes from late payments to multi-million pound settlements”.
Stephen Ward, chief executive of Clerksroom, said up to 10,000 businesses, including almost all the major utility companies, would be invited by the OS to direct commercial disputes to the new service.
Mr Ward predicted that Clerksroom, which works with over 500 mediation specialists, might have to recruit 10-20 full-time administrators to cope with the demands of running the scheme.
“We know there will be a lead-in time of three, six or nine months and we are preparing our office for what we will hope will be rapid expansion,” he said.
“I’m expecting a large number of mediators wanting to join us when this becomes public. This is the largest opportunity that we’ve ever encountered and we’re all very excited about it.”
Mr Ward said he knew of at least one major gas supplier which would definitely add a clause in its terms and conditions referring disputes to the new service.
He claimed that Clerksroom was the only dispute resolution network that could “meet the anticipated nationwide demand for this service”.
Mr Ward added that the partnership could also boost Clerksroom’s direct access barrister service, as businesses which could not come to an agreement would be signposted to it by the OS website.
“Businesses are ideal public access clients,” he said. “The whole thing sits together extremely neatly.”
Lewis Shand Smith, chief executive of OS, said it already handled many disputes between commercial businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises in the energy, communications, music recording and property sectors.
“We find that as we grow, we are being asked more frequently to provide services outside the scope of our existing product portfolio and as such have decided to introduce a new commercial dispute resolution service to bring our wealth of experience to businesses.
“We are committed to helping businesses resolve their complaints and find a way to get their problems resolved without incurring the high costs of going to court, and hope that many businesses will take advantage of the new service we are offering.”
Clerksroom announced early last month  that it had signed a signed a two-year contract, together with Parklane Plowden, to provide barristers for all Minster Law’s personal injury fast and multi-track cases.