A watchdog service to resolve disputes between retailers and customers opens its doors on 2 January.

The new Retail Ombudsman, consumer rights lawyer Dean Dunham, will have the power to investigate complaints about products and services at high street and independent shops, retail businesses and shopping websites. 

The scheme, which was set up following consultation with government ministers and in contemplation of an EU consumer rights directive that comes into force next year, could win back “millions of pounds” for consumers, said Dunham.

“Retail is one of the only sectors that until now has no redress scheme for consumers when things go wrong and where the only recourse has been to take legal action when retailers reject complaints,” he said.

“One of the things that amazes me is how many times retailers get it wrong and that comes down to the quality of their customer service. Consumers are losing millions of pounds a year by being fobbed off.”

The service would however “benefit both parties” because it was putting someone in the middle to mediate in disputes, Dunham added.

The scheme, which Dunham said was “long overdue”, is funded by the retail industry, but would be free and “completely independent”.

Customers unhappy about their treatment must first make a complaint to the retailer and if it is still unresolved after eight weeks, they can contact the retail ombudsman.     

Dunham will be acting as legal adviser to the service, which comprises a trained team of case workers and will be overseen by an independent board chaired by businessman and government advisor Sir Eric Peacock.