July 5th 2023

Mediation and the New Normal

In today’s article, we share our latest report “Mediation and the New Normal” which reflects on the past 12 months – 2022 – 2023. In the report, we detail and offer an overview of the services, results and experiences gained by the OCCS over this period.

“A year that may be remembered as the year that replaced “social distancing” with “cost-of-living”, it will remain some time before we can confidently say whether or not it was the beginning of “the new normal”. All buzzwords aside, there can be no doubt that the past year has been defined by rising inflation rather than the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unquestionably a significant shift in terms of consumer behaviour, this altogether new trend has challenged the optical sector in a novel way. In particular, practices are now faced with complaints which are firmly rooted in financial anxieties, causing them to be far less willing to accept a goodwill gesture as a form of resolution. Quantifying and reviewing all of the work that has been carried out by the OCCS, this Annual Report explores the various complaint types and work that the service is carrying out to make the sector perform more efficiently and effectively.

Executive Summary

The following report reveals how the OCCS continues to operate against a backdrop that is largely impacted by the same financial pressures which defined 2021-22. Of course, this particular issue has far from abated and is indeed increasing in impact. With this in mind, the positive resolution rates and improved timescales serve as highly encouraging signs that the OCCS remains more valuable to consumers and practices than ever before

Key Stats

  • 1707 complaints received between 1st April 2022 – 31st March 2023, representing a 2% decrease YoY* *Year on Year comparison.
  • 1603 complaints/ enquiries closed during 2022-23.
  • 93% of complaints were consumer-related complaints which fell inside of the OCCS’ remit and were handled by the service.
  • 94% of referrals resolved or concluded within OCCS mediation.

Of the complaints that were resolved using mediation between 2022-23, the greatest share was attributed to the category of Goods & Services. Representing a 10% increase on this category when compared with last year, it is possible that this illustrates the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. More specifically, a greater number of people complaining over goods and services suggests that there is a lower tolerance for imperfections and a higher expectation than there was before.  This view is supported by previous yearly data that tells us that complaints relating to Goods and Services have grown by 20% over the past two years.

Elsewhere, all of the categories remain within a 2 to 3% differential. This consistency compounds the suggestion that complaints in the optical sector are beginning to settle into a “new normal” that will likely remain for as long as economic conditions remain highly challenging to consumers and practices.

OCCS Overview

Between 1st April 2022 and 31st March 2023, the OCCS received 1707 complaints, 1588 of which fell into remit, which is consistent with activity in 2021-22. Of course, it is crucial to keep in mind that last year’s total represented a 21.5% rise in complaints submitted to the OCCS when compared to 2019-20, the service has maintained its position as an effective resource for those seeking to settle a dispute regarding their experience with the optical sector.

Direct Access

A total of 65% of those contacting the OCCS revealed they found out about the OCCS online, via search engines and the online presence. This is a modest 5% decline on the previous year’s data and there are certainly other key points of interest when analysing where service users source information about escalating their complaint

  • Practice Referrals – these are examples of where a practice referenced the OCCS in their complaint response or policy, and the consumer states that this to be how they came to contact the OCCS. These accounted for 2.5% of all enquiries, which is consistent with referrals as took place last year. In real terms this meant that 75 complaints came by way of referral by practices.
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau continues to be a helpful source of information for consumers, and leads them to the OCCS, bringing a total of 27 consumers to the service in 2022-23.
  • Professional events also enabled the OCCS to extend the reach of its service, with 44 disputes being referred to the OCCS as a result of an optical professional attending an event where the OCCS were present.


93% of enquiries received fell within the consumer complaints remit of the OCCS, with 124 enquiries being signposted to other organisations or falling outside the OCCS remit:

  1. a) Practice not registered with the GOC or no GOC registrant involvement (44, an increase of 8 when compared to 2021-22)

A critical aspect of the OCCS role is ensuring that any complaint circumstance involving potential allegations of impaired fitness to practice received by the OCCS, are referred to the GOC in order to protect the public. While these events are few and far between, it is essential that this monitoring and safeguarding aspect of our triage and mediation management is effective. The OCCS team have a good understanding of the issues and concerns which may amount to an impaired fitness to practise. This is reinforced through training and interaction with the GOC FtP team so both teams have a detailed working knowledge of how the roles differ and support each other to deliver timely and effective resolution.

  1. b) The complainant was seeking compensation arising from the alleged negligence of the optical professional (41, an increase of 22 when compared to 2021-22)

In terms of the most significant increase in complaint types – those seeking compensation – the increasing effects of the cost-of-living crisis may be influencing the remedy sought by a consumer. For a claim for compensation to be pursued, the consumer would have to establish harm due to negligence of breach of contract. Analysis of the complaints in the category do not suggest that we are seeing more potentially negligent care. Indeed, the growing number of consumers who insist that their dispute can only be resolved by way of financial remuneration is a clear sign that economic hardship is surfacing in the sector.

  1. c) Practice not registered with the GOC or no GOC registrant involvement (44, an increase of 8 when compared to 2021-22).

For more information and to speak the OCCS, contact our team via enquiries@opticalcomplaints.co.uk or call 0344 800 5071.

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