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annual review 2015/2016

1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016

sorting things early on

getting in touch with us

Throughout 2015/2016 we received over 1.6 million enquiries from people with questions, concerns and complaints about money matters – over 5,000 each working day. These early conversations are a key part of our work to prevent complaints from escalating – and to encourage confidence in financial services.

the number of enquiries we received

year ended
31 March
phone enquiries written enquiries
(including by email)
total enquiries
2016 806,171 825,784 1,631,955
2015 927,737 859,236 1,786,973
2014 1,150,002 1,207,372 2,357,374
2013 1,067,607 1,093,832 2,161,439
2012 673,999 594,799 1,268,798

This early help and support can involve:

  • Unpicking people’s frustration, confusion or upset – giving practical suggestions and directing people to online resources to help them resolve problems themselves.
  • Reassuring people confused or put off by the jargon and perceived red tape of the complaints process – and, where necessary, directing people to financial businesses to raise their concerns in the first instance.
  • Giving an informal steer, based on our experience, about whether a business’s response to a complaint seems fair – and explaining the next steps for people who want to take things further.
  • Signposting people to appropriate organisations and services – for example, free debt charities, other ombudsmen and regulators.
  • Monitoring the types of enquiries we’re hearing – and sharing any trends with stakeholders to help them take relevant action to prevent potential problems.

Mr F’s car dealership had received a complaint from a customer about the quality of a car bought on finance. He’d never had a complaint before, so he got in touch with us about where to start. After listening to what had happened, we directed him to relevant case studies on our website – to help him resolve the problem himself.

Mr V had read a story online about bank account scams, and contacted us through social media, worried that he’d been tricked as well. We replied to Mr V within minutes – and provided a link to useful information from Action Fraud to all our social media followers. 

Mr and Mrs S had complained to their bank about PPI – and had received an offer of compensation. But they’d heard that banks could sometimes get this kind of thing wrong. We explained how the bank would have reached their answer – and confirmed that, based on our experience, we thought the offer was fair.

Mr U approached us at a drop-in centre we were holding in his local area. He’d invested in a business opportunity that had gone wrong – but wasn’t sure if we were the right people to help. After talking through the situation, we established that it was something we could look into. We gave Mr U some on-the-spot advice about how to raise his concerns – and explained how he could get in touch if he couldn’t sort things out.

Mrs B contacted us after her business received a complaint from a couple who weren’t happy with the investment scheme some of their pension pot had been put into. We explained that we’d recently been receiving a steady stream of similar questions – and pointed Mrs B to our online case studies, to help her understand what she’d need to consider.  

Mrs E was finding it hard to understand the final response she’d received from her bank about her packaged bank account complaint. We explained the jargon she was confused about – and talked through the features of the account that her bank was saying might have been useful to her. Mrs E said she felt reassured that the account hadn’t been a waste of money – and was happy not to take things further.

While the volumes of people getting in touch with us directly remain very high, they’re slightly lower compared with recent years. This reflects the gradual fall in complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI).

People also use a wide range of channels to get in touch with us now – for example, sending us enquiries through mobile devices, or asking us quick questions over social media – as well as using our free phone number.

And as we’ve continued to expand and improve our online resources, more people are finding answers themselves – without needing to get in touch with us directly. As we explain later in this section, our online presence is an important part of our complaints prevention work.

the phone numbers people used to contact us

  %
0800 023 4567 54
0300 1239 123 41
0845 080 1800 5

This year more than half of everyone who called us used our 0800 phone number – which since July 2015 has been free from mobiles as well as landlines. Until then, our 0300 number was the cheapest option for mobile users.

Calls to our 0845 number dropped again, as we continued to remind businesses and other organisations that give out our details that we’ve had cheaper – or free – alternatives for some years.

how people called us

  %
from a landline phone 64
from a mobile phone 28.5
overseas/unknown/other 4
calls made over the internet 3.5

This year the proportion of calls we received from mobiles grew by more than a third, while calls from landlines fell by 12%. Calls made over internet services, including via Skype, also increased by around a third. Once again, we received a steady number of calls from people using a payphone – 1,677 this year.

the time of day people phoned us

  • 11% between 8am and 10am
  • 24% between 10am and midday
  • 22% between midday and 2pm
  • 23% between 2pm and 4pm
  • 15% between 4pm and 6pm
  • 3% between 6pm and 8pm
  • 2% Saturday morning

As a service for everyone in the UK, it’s essential that people can contact us at times that fit in with their different lifestyles and commitments.

Since 2013 people have been able to phone us from 8am to 8pm on weekdays, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Our busiest times tend to be Mondays and Tuesdays between 10am and midday – when we received an average of around 450 phone calls an hour this year.

Being mentioned on television or the radio can cause a sudden sharp increase in phone calls. Monday 1 February 2016 was our busiest day this year – when we received 4,291 calls. This followed significant media interest over the weekend in the consultation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on bringing in a time limit for complaints about mis-sold PPI.

In contrast, the quietest time was the last two weeks in December 2015. But some people still had money problems on their mind over the festive season – with more than 1,400 people visiting our website on Christmas Day.

how long the calls lasted

  • under 3 minutes: 34.5%
  • between 3 and 5 minutes: 16.5%
  • between 6 and 10 minutes: 21%
  • between 11 and 15 minutes: 15.5%
  • between 15 and 20 minutes: 6%
  • over 20 minutes: 6.5%

This year around half the phone calls people made to us lasted five minutes or less – reflecting the fact we’re generally able to give people very quickly the practical answers they need to take things forward.

This year we answered 81% of calls that weren’t about PPI within 20 seconds – meeting our target of 80%, which is in line with widely-used customer service standards. Looking only at calls about PPI, we answered 95% within 20 seconds – up from 84% in the previous year.

how people first heard about us

  %
on the internet 25
from a financial business 23
from a friend, relative or colleague 22
in the media 14
from a consumer advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 9
from a claims management company 4
other and don’t know 3

We ask people who contact us with an enquiry how they first heard about us – so we can understand how to focus our awareness raising work most effectively.

This year one in four people said they’d found out about us on the internet. This could reflect the number of times we’ve been mentioned online – as well as the number of websites that link to our own. A similar proportion told us they’d heard about the ombudsman from a friend, relative or colleague – or from a financial business.

There’s more information about how we make sure people know about us in the section who complained to us.

our leaflet – your complaint and the ombudsman

Nearly a quarter of people who got in touch with us said they’d heard about us from the financial business they’d complained to. Under the rules about handling complaints, businesses are required to send their customers our leaflet – your complaint and the ombudsman – when they give their final response to a complaint.

During the year we ran focus groups across the country to see how people responded to our leaflet. As a result of their comments and suggestions, we made a number of changes to the content and design.

We also reviewed the leaflet in light of changes to the FCA rules about how businesses handle complaints, which have applied since 2015. These changes mean we can now officially get involved in a complaint during the eight weeks that businesses have traditionally had to respond – if the business and consumer both agree to this.

In 2015/2016 we distributed more than a million copies of our leaflet. It’s free of charge to consumer advice agencies, libraries and other community centres – and we can provide it in a wide range of languages and formats. We charge businesses for bulk supplies, but they can print it themselves under a licence from us.

what people first contacted us about

  %
PPI 23
car and motorbike insurance 9
loans and credit 8.5
packaged bank accounts, interbank transfers, electronic money and other banking services 8.5
current accounts 7
warranties, mobile phone cover, home emergency cover and other insurance 5
credit cards 3.5
mortgages 3
household insurance 2.5
mortgage endowments 1
other financial products 9
other problems and concerns that people didn’t know where else to take (for example, debt related worries and confusion about how to sort out a problem) 20

This year just under a quarter of people who contacted us with an enquiry wanted to talk to us about PPI. This is down from almost one in three, two years ago. The relative proportions of calls about other issues remained broadly the same.

The increase in the number of people who’ve contacted us about packaged bank accounts this year is probably a result of the media attention these accounts have received. We were often able to signpost people to our practical online resources – which explain our approach to the common concerns we hear about packaged accounts.

In contrast, we saw a marked decrease in volumes of enquires about credit broking. During the year we continued to share the problems we were seeing in this area – particularly where people had been charged several fees, but hadn’t actually received a loan.

Money matters cut across most areas of life – whether it’s paying utility bills, getting paid or receiving welfare payments. So it isn’t surprising that when something goes wrong, some people contact the financial ombudsman for help in the first instance. In these cases, we’re often able to quickly explain the position – and refer people to other organisations who are better placed to take things forward.

However, fewer people contacted us this year about problems that weren’t related to any specific financial product or service. As we highlight in the section who complained to us, awareness of our service has risen significantly this year – so it could be that more people understand more about what we can help with.

how our early involvement helped

We carry out research every year to make sure that our early conversations are valued by the people who’ve turned to us for answers. This year we found that:

  • 86% of people we spoke to early on felt we’d listened to them and cared about what they had to say.
  • 83% said we’d got to grips with their situation and used common sense to help them find a solution.
  • 84% said we gave them clear and honest answers and let them know where they stood.

We also talk to people who contacted us early on, but didn’t go on to make a formal complaint to us, to find out what happened next. This year around half of these people said they’d gone on to sort out the problem themselves – and nine out of ten of these people said our early help and advice had helped them do this.

Of the people who hadn’t yet sorted things out, two thirds said they were still talking to the business. But this still left some people who decided not to take things any further. In the section who complained to us, we talk more about people’s attitudes towards complaining – and how we aim to reach everyone who might need us.

ombudsman at the heart of Birmingham

We know that some people may be reluctant or uncomfortable in engaging with services like ours – which may seem remote and official. So in 2015/2016, we’ve looked for new ways to open up our service – putting ourselves in the heart of local communities and giving people a further, face to face channel for engaging with us.

As part of this, in October 2015 we visited Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre – giving hundreds of shoppers the opportunity to talk to us about problems they were having. Sometimes we decided we couldn’t resolve people’s queries there and then – because we needed to investigate further to reach a fair answer. In these cases, we took a few details and got back to people later on, to let them know where they stood.

We also met front-line consumer advisers from the Birmingham area, who told us about the issues local people were bringing to them. And we ran practical problem-solving workshops.

Frank had recently been cold-called by a company offering to invest his pension in a property scheme in Cape Verde. After we’d talked through some of the cases we’ve seen involving schemes like this, Frank said he’d speak with his wife and think again.

Nikki was considering making a complaint about her packaged bank account, after receiving an email saying most were useless and mis-sold. We got talking about the different features of the account – and following our conversation, Nikki was reassured that the account could save her money. 

Haz, who worked in a local bank branch, liked our fresh, informal approach – which he felt removed perceived obstacles for businesses and their customers to talking to us. He said he’d take what he’d learned from talking to us – particularly the practical case studies – back to his branch colleagues.

social media

As people manage more and more aspects of life online, we’ve continued to work on our online presence. During 2015/2016 more than 50,000 people avoided the need to fill out a form to email or post back to us, by complaining online.

We’ve also continued to engage with people across social media. On Twitter alone, we were mentioned tens of thousands of times over the year – including people directly asking for our take on a problem they were having, sharing links to our website with their own followers, or retweeting information we’d shared.

We also received a steady number of messages through Facebook from people wanting to know if we could help – or following up a complaint they’d already referred to us. If another organisation was better placed to take a problem forward, we were quickly able to get them involved in the conversation.

Reflecting the different reasons people use social media, we also continued to provide insight and updates about our work through the professional network LinkedIn. And for people who prefer video content, we’ve made a series of animations with complaint prevention tips – on themes like moving house, shopping at Christmas, and relationships and money.

our website and online resources

During 2015/2016 we’ve continued to develop our online resources – so people can get our answer to problems they’re having at a time that’s convenient for them, without needing to contact us directly. To help us better understand where we need to provide support, we look at what people are searching for on our website – together with the enquiries we’re receiving.

To help people easily find the information that’s most relevant to their own situation, we focus on the questions and complaints we hear most often – and explain our approach to finding a fair answer. From conversations with our customers – in particular, with people on the front-line of complaints – we know that practical case studies can be very valuable in bringing our approach to life.

This year – in light of the numbers of enquiries we’d been receiving about credit broking and payday loans – we launched new resources to help clear up the confusion we often see in these cases.

We also refreshed our resources relating to problems involving vehicles – from buying insurance, to repaying finance agreements. And we’ve included new content on equity release – encouraging people to have honest conversations with their family about money matters, to avoid the upset we often see in these cases.

Given the high numbers of enquiries we’ve been receiving about packaged bank accounts, during the year we also developed our online support in this area.

And we reviewed and added to our online frequently asked questions – meaning people can find quick answers to queries they have about our service and our approach to different types of complaints.

We regularly carry out research into who’s using our website and what for – to help us make sure our online support remains relevant and accessible. In the section our insight and outreach, we explain how our website helps us work openly and transparently.

the most visited resources on our website

During 2015/2016 our website had nearly 7,000 visitors each day – 10% more than in the previous year. Pages setting out our approach to specific financial problems was the most popular part of our website, with over a million visitors over the course of the year.

Ombudsman newswas also read online over a million times during the year. Our most popular issue online this year featured case studies about credit broking and unregulated collective investment schemes (UCIS) – which we published in response to receiving a large number of enquiries about these issues.

As in previous years, our research shows that the majority of people continue to reach our website through search engines – with two thirds of all visitors finding us through Google.

Apart from search engines, many people reached our website by following links from trusted websites such as thisismoney.co.uk, BBC, online newspapers and blogs including savvywoman.co.uk. There’s more information in our section who complained to us about how we raise awareness of the ombudsman through different media.

words people search for to get to our website

  • final decisions
  • packaged bank accounts
  • mortgage arrears
  • car insurance ombudsman
  • early repayment charge
  • subsidence
  • PPI compensation
  • bank charges
  • ombudsman
  • can’t afford loan
  • pension complaint
  • money scam
  • payday loan
  • debt help 

supporting complaints handlers

Throughout 2015/2016 we’ve continued to offer free phone and email support for people on the front-line of complaints. Over the year our helpline answered more than 23,000 calls from people including complaints handlers at financial businesses, local community advisers, MPs’ caseworkers and trading standards officers.

By talking things through, we’re generally able to give these people the informal steer they need to resolve problems themselves – without the ombudsman’s official involvement. More than nine in ten people who got in touch said they were happy with the support we’d offered – helping them to resolve the question or problem they’d had.

Through these conversations we can identify themes and trends in the questions we’re asked, spot potential problems early on – and take steps to address them through tailored outreach work, online resources, or conversations with the FCA and other stakeholders.

There’s more information about our work with our stakeholders in the section our insight and outreach.