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annual review 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006 - the complaints we received

at the front-line

Our customer contact division provides our front-line for consumer enquiries - by phone, letter and email. During the year we handled 672,973 initial enquiries and complaints from consumers - a 10% increase on the previous year (following a 12% increase in the previous year, when we handled 614,148 enquiries).

initial enquiries and complaints from consumers

2006

  • 313,842 written enquiries
  • 359,131 phone enquiries
  • 672,973 total enquiries

2005

  • 285,149 written enquiries
  • 328,999 phone enquiries
  • 614,148 total enquiries

2004

  • 256,446 written enquiries
  • 291,892 phone enquiries
  • 548,338 total enquiries

year ended 31 March

This means that every working day our customer contact division handles more than 2,500 phone calls and items of new correspondence. These come from consumers who have questions, concerns and complaints about the way they believe they have been treated by financial firms.

Only one in six of these initial enquiries will go on to become a “full-blown” case requiring more intensive dispute-resolution work by our adjudicators or ombudsmen. The aim of our customer contact division is to resolve as many initial problems and complaints as early as possible - and in the most efficient and accessible way. This usually involves talking directly to our customers over the phone. Most consumers welcome this informal approach - and it is often the quickest and simplest way of sorting things out.

Being accessible is something we take very seriously. Our aim is to provide access to justice for people from all backgrounds and all sections of the community - not just for those who are confident and articulate in form-filling and complaining. We are especially keen to ensure no one is discouraged from using the ombudsman service because of language barriers or other difficulties. We use an instant phone-based interpreting service to handle calls in languages other than English. And we use TypeTalk, and provide information in formats such as large print and audiotape, to suit individual customers’ needs.

Where consumers contact us before raising their complaint with the firm, our customer contact division forwards the complaint to the firm and asks it to investigate the matter under its formal complaints procedure. We remind consumers that they can ask us to get involved directly if the firm is not able to resolve their complaint within eight weeks. And we keep brief details of the case, so that if consumers need to approach us again, we already know who they are and have their details on our system. This reduces duplication, cuts down on paperwork - and saves time and effort for us, firms and consumers.

Where a consumer has already complained to the firm and - dissatisfied with the firm’s response - subsequently contacts us, our customer contact division gets together the relevant details and sorts out the necessary paperwork. In most cases, this involves confirming the consumer’s details and guiding them through our complaint form over the phone. This can be the most efficient way for us to get the information we need from the consumer, because we can explain exactly what we want and focus on the key facts.

At this stage, our customer contact division also offers consumers general advice and guidance. As well as explaining the complaints process in general, we discuss individual cases with consumers - who can be unsure how or whether to proceed with a complaint, or confused about redress already on offer from the firm.

For example, some consumers who have already been offered redress in relation to their mortgage endowments remain worried, because the amount of compensation offered does not match the estimated shortfall shown on the “re-projection” letter that the firm sent them. We can resolve many of these early complaints by clarifying - from an entirely independent standpoint - the regulatory approach to mortgage endowment compensation, and by explaining how redress has been calculated in these cases to comply with guidance set by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Our customer contact division is always looking for ways to help nip problems in the bud, before they escalate into full-scale disputes. This can involve intervening directly to sort things out - for example, where it is clear to us that the problem has arisen out of a simple administrative error or misunderstanding between the customer and the firm. During the year around two hundred complaints like this were resolved at this early stage every week.

An increasing number of consumers are getting the information they want from us directly from our website, rather than by phoning or writing to us. Over 125,000 people now visit www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk each month (a 25% annual increase - following similarly-sized increases in the previous two years). Over 200,000 complaint forms were downloaded from our website during the year. The other pages most regularly visited were the frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) for firms, the how to complain page, and the index for previous issues of our newsletter, ombudsman news.

Where further work is needed to resolve complaints, our customer contact division acts as the gateway to our specialist casework teams of adjudicators.

how we handle initial enquiries and complaints

The chart below shows the variety of ways in which our front-line customer contact division can resolve initial enquiries or complaints at the earliest stage - before they become "full blown" cases.

letters, phone calls and emails from consumers
Has the consumer complained to the firm yet? If not - refer the complaint to the firm, giving it the chance to sort the problem out first.
Is it a complaint - or just a request for information? Provide the consumer with the facts they need, to resolve the problem themselves.
Does the consumer need advice on financial, debt or legal matters? Direct the consumer to relevant helplines and websites.
Should the firm be given a last chance to settle the complaint? Persuade both sides to resolve the matter themselves - without escalating the case as a formal dispute to the ombudsman.
Can we resolve the problem straight away? Step in promptly, talk to both sides, and see if a few practical suggestions can help sort things out.
Is the complaint clearly outside our remit? Explain the rules of our jurisdiction - for example on time limits that apply.
Is the complaint clearly without merit? Explain why we don't believe it would be helpful or productive to pursue the matter further.
Does the consumer want to pursue the complaint formally? Give an early steer on the likely outcome - from our informed independent viewpoint.
Is the consumer complaining to the wrong organisation? Suggest other relevant bodies or ombudsmen.
Is it a matter for the regulator? Explain the difference between redress and regulatory issues - referring to the relevant regulatory organisation
refer as a new case to our adjudicators for further work

new cases referred to our adjudicators

In the year ended 31 March 2006, our customer contact division referred 112,923 new cases to our adjudicators and ombudsmen for more detailed dispute-resolution work - out of a total of 672,973 enquiries and complaints initially received at our consumer front-line.

The number of new cases is marginally higher (by 1.8%) than the record number of new cases recorded in last year’s annual review - and again results from the continued heavy volumes of mortgage endowment disputes being referred to the ombudsman service.

number of new cases

  • 2006 - 112,923 new cases
  • 2005 - 110,963 new cases
  • 2004 - 97,901 new cases
  • 2003 - 62,170 new cases
  • 2002 - 43,330 new cases
  • 2001 - 31,347 new cases

year ended 31 March

This means that for three years running we have now been handling an annual caseload over three times the size that it was in the financial year 2000/01, when our predecessor ombudsman schemes merged to form the Financial Ombudsman Service.

We handled 69,149 new cases about mortgage endowments during the year. This means that each working day we registered over 250 new mortgage endowment complaints - the same high level as in the previous year. For the third year running, well in excess of half of all new cases during the year were mortgage endowment complaints - compared with less than a quarter in the financial year 2002/03.