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annual review 2006/07

1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007

who complained to us

what type of consumer uses the ombudsman service?

Consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service are typically between the ages of 35 and 64. Seven out of ten people who use our service are in this age bracket - largely reflecting the fact that this is the home-owning generation most likely to have complaints relating to mortgage endowments. Complaints about mortgage endowments make up a half of our total workload.

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
under 25 2
25 to 34 8
35 to 44 25
45 to 54 26
55 to 64 18
over 65 21

Consumers under 35 complain to us mostly about banking issues and motor and travel insurance. The number of consumers in this age group who have used our service has increased proportionately over the year from 7% to 10%.

Of the 2,000 or so people under 25 who referred disputes to us, unsurprisingly, fewer than 1% had investment-related complaints (including one 21-year old who had a pension-related dispute). Consumers over 65, on the other hand, bring proportionately the largest number of cases to the ombudsman about securities, investments and pensions.

.... and what gender are they? %
female 29
male 71

The figures continue to show that significantly more men than women complain to the ombudsman service. However, many complaints relate to accounts and policies (especially mortgage endowment policies) held jointly. And with joint accounts, the first-named account-holder - the name our system records - is generally a male partner.

where do consumers live who complain to the ombudsman %
South East (including Greater London) 28
Midlands 19
North West 12
South West 10
North East 9
Scotland 9
East Anglia 6
Wales 4.5
Northern Ireland 2.5

The chart above shows the geographical spread of the consumers whose complaints we worked on during the year. Comparing these figures with regional population data for the UK helps us ensure that awareness and usage of the ombudsman is fairly and proportionately spread across the regions and nations. The location of people using our service continues broadly to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

There is no significant variation in where consumers come from - or in their age, occupation or gender - between those who make initial contact with us, with front-line enquiries to our customer contact division, and those who then go on to refer "full blown" disputes to the ombudsman service. This suggests that our complaints-handling procedure - which we explain upfront to consumers when they first contact us - is equally accessible to consumers of all age groups, genders, occupations and regional backgrounds.

how did consumers hear about the ombudsman? %
through the media 40
through a friend, relative or colleague 20
from a financial services company 19
on the internet 10
from a consumer advice agency (eg trading standards or citizens advice) 7
other (including other complaints bodies and claims management companies) 4

Businesses covered by the ombudsman service are required by law to mention the ombudsman, when they deal with a customer for the first time. Businesses also have to give details about us, if a complaint arises which the business cannot resolve to the customer's satisfaction. This explains why many people with complaints say they first heard about us from the business they complained about. However, the proportion of people who told us that this is how they found out about us fell from 32% to 19% this year.

On the other hand, the proportion of consumers who said that they first heard about our service through the media rose from 27% to 40%. And an increasing number of people said they found out about the ombudsman from friends, relatives and work colleagues - or on the internet. This shows the importance of "word of mouth" and "social media" as ways of increasing awareness about the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Over 95% of people who got in touch with us said that finding our contact details had been easy.

During the year we also carried out market research into levels of awareness of the ombudsman among consumers more generally - as we are particularly interested to hear the views of those who have never used our service. The results of this research showed:

  • 55% of the adult population (based on a representative sample) had heard of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
  • One in ten were able to name us, unprompted, as the organisation whose job it is to resolve disputes between financial services companies and their customers. During a period of extensive media coverage of consumers complaining about bank charges, this rose to one in five people.
  • Two thirds of those who had heard of us knew about us from seeing or hearing something in the media.
what newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman %
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday 21
The Times / Sunday Times 14
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph 11
The Sun 8
The Express / Sunday Express 6
The Mirror / Sunday Mirror 6
The Guardian / Observer 6
The Independent / Independent on Sunday 4
Financial Times 4
other newspaper (including free, local and regional titles) 20

Knowing which newspapers are read by consumers who bring complaints to us gives us an insight into the socio-economic background of our customers. This information helps us tailor our messages more effectively to target the people who do - and don't - know about and use the ombudsman service.

The general pattern of newspaper-reading among people who use the ombudsman service remains broadly similar to that recorded in previous years. However, this year, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who mention the free daily Metro - now distributed in 18 UK conurbations - as the newspaper they read.

consumer diversity

12% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year told us they had some form of disability (14% in the previous year) - predominantly mobility difficulties. A small but increasing proportion - 1% of consumers - said they had mental health issues.

We recorded proportionately more disability-related requests for help from older customers with sight loss and hearing loss. Of the people who told us about a disability, there was a significantly higher proportion with complaints about pensions, banking and stocks and shares than with mortgage endowment complaints.

There is continued strong demand for information in Braille, large print and on audiotape/CD - and we use TypeTalk and sign-language on request. This is part of our commitment to be flexible and accommodate our customers' needs wherever we can.

Our research indicates that around 7% of people who used our service during the year defined themselves as "minority ethnic" (5% in the previous year) - a slightly lower proportion than the figure nationally. We have previously worked with an agency specialising in ethnicity-driven market research - to try to identify why proportionately fewer people from minority-ethnic backgrounds refer disputes to the ombudsman service. The research was inconclusive - but indicated that a multiplicity of complex factors were involved, reflecting the different social and economic circumstances of the UK's diverse ethnic communities.

More detailed research during the year into levels of public awareness of the ombudsman confirmed significant differences between various ethnic groups. While 50% of consumers with Chinese backgrounds knew of the ombudsman service, for example, this figure fell to 30% in the case of South Asian consumers.

In response to these findings, we launched a specific project during the year to work more closely with Asian consumers and help raise awareness of our role. This has included taking part in various "melas" (Asian lifestyle events) and promoting tailored messages, including advertising, in partnership with ZEE, the UK Asian media-network.

Zee advert [PDF version opens in new window]

For people who are not comfortable using English, we provide information and are able to communicate in other languages. In the past year we have done so in 20 languages - including handling correspondence in Urdu, phone calls in Mandarin and emails in Latvian.

our website users

During the year we recorded 40 million hits on our website, with an average of 150,000 visitors a month. On the busiest day on the website during the year 12,892 people logged on.

To find out more about our website users - and why they visited us online - we ran a web-based user-survey over a three month period at the end of 2006. Key findings showed that:

  • A third of people were first-time visitors and two-thirds had been on our website previously.
  • 62% of users were male and 38% female.
  • Just over half were on our website for business purposes - and just under half were consumers visiting for personal use.
  • 29% of people who use the website are under 35, but only 10% of this age group actually bring complaints to the ombudsman service; conversely, 17% of people visiting our website are over 55, but 39% of people who complain to us are in this age group.
  • 86% of users said they would definitely visit the site again.
how did users find out about our site? %
from a friend or colleague 31
through an internet search-engine 27
told by a financial services company 24
through a link on another website 12
mentioned in a newspaper 6
what stage are our website users at in pursuing their own complaints? %
only browsing at this stage 24
thinking about making a complaint to a financial services company 28
waiting for a financial services company to reach a decision on their complaint 11
thinking about referring an unresolved dispute to the ombudsman service 20
waiting for the ombudsman service to make a decision on their complaint 17
how do our website users view the ombudsman service? % who agree % who disagree
we are helpful and approachable 85 15
we are independent and impartial 81 19
we are authoritative and knowledgeable 83 17
we are capable and efficient 80 20
we are respected and influential 78 22

how do consumers rate our service?

how do consumers who complain to the ombudsman rate the service we provide? % who agree % who express no view % who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 70 18 12
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 63 14 23
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 59 19 22
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 47 18 35
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 64 13 23

The chart above shows how consumers who took part in our customer satisfaction surveys over the year rated our service.

We recognise that people's personal experience of our service - and the way in which they rate their satisfaction with us - is inevitably influenced by the outcome of their own complaint - and this means we cannot please everyone. However, seeking the views of those who have used our service is an essential part of finding out where we can improve.

We launched our original customer satisfaction research programme in 2002 - and have published findings from our surveys in each annual review since then. Initially, our research was designed to help us to monitor how well we performed over time against our own set of benchmarks. However, during 2006 we reviewed the way we carry out this work - recognising that it is just as important to understand how we perform against other comparable organisations.

This has resulted in our introducing new customer-service benchmarks during the year. These involve a series of "satisfaction indicators" that sum up what consumers tell us they expect from our service - as well as reflecting our own organisational aims and values. These satisfaction indicators should help us compare our results more consistently with other organisations.

Moving to this new system of benchmarking has meant there have been some initial fluctuations between our new customer service data and results we recorded in our previous research.

how does the outcome of their complaint affect how consumers rate the service we provide?

of those consumers who said they felt they had "won" their complaint:

  • 86% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 8% were dissatisfied; and
  • 6% expressed no view.

of those consumers who said they felt they had "lost" their complaint:

  • 48% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 33% were dissatisfied; and
  • 19% expressed no view.
image of annual review 2007

This annual review is published in accordance with paragraph 7 of schedule 17 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.