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annual review 2008/09

1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009

who complained to us

what kind of consumer uses the ombudsman service?

Collecting demographic information about the kind of consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service gives us a closer understanding of the people who use our service - and their expectations and requirements. It also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is less well known and used.

We also use this information to prioritise further work - for example, targeting specific outreach and awareness-raising activities, or adjusting our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

  • 4% were under 25
  • 15% were 25 to 34
  • 24% were 35 to 44
  • 25% were 45 to 54
  • 20% were 55 to 64
  • 12% were over 65

Around seven out of ten consumers who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were between the ages of 35 and 64. Around half the UK population are between these ages.

This "over-representation" of people in the middle age-brackets who complain to us appears to reflect their wider ownership of financial products - as well as their greater awareness of our service.

However, the proportion of under 35s and over 65s using our service is continuing a gradual upward trend. We hope this reflects the outreach work we have carried out with people in these age groups - to help raise their awareness of the right to bring financial disputes to the ombudsman service.

The average age of employees at the ombudsman service is 37.

… and what gender are they?

  • female: 37
  • male: 63

We continue to receive more complaints from men than from women. The proportion of male and female consumers bringing complaints to us during the year was identical to the previous year. However, many complaints relate to accounts and policies that are held jointly where - conventionally - the first-named account-holder (the name our system records) is a male partner. Of our own employees, 58% are male and 42% female.

where do consumers live who complain to us?

This table below shows where consumers live who brought complaints to the ombudsman service this year. Comparing these figures with regional population data helps us monitor awareness and use of our service across the regions and nations.

region where consumers live %
South East (including Greater London) 30
Midlands 19
North West 12
South West 10
North East 9
Scotland 7
East Anglia 5
Wales 4
Northern Ireland 2
live outside the UK 2

Looking at where people live across the UK, we received proportionately fewer complaints from consumers in East Anglia, Wales, the North East and Scotland; and proportionately more complaints from people living in the Midlands, the South East, the South West and the North West.

Broadly, however, the location of people using the ombudsman service continues to reflect the general spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

how did consumers hear about the ombudsman?

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.

how did consumers hear about the ombudsman? %
through the media 34
from a financial services company 22
from a friend, relative or colleague 16
on the internet 12
from a consumer advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 6
other ombudsman or complaints scheme 4
other 6

However, more consumers continue to say they first heard about us through the media - rather than from the business they complained about.

96% of people who got in touch with us said that finding our contact details had been easy. And 86% said that they had already heard about the Financial Ombudsman Service before they needed to complain.

what newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman?

Knowing which newspapers are read by consumers who bring complaints to us gives us a useful insight into the socio-economic background of our customers.

what newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman? %
regional and free papers (mostly the Metro newspaper) 21
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday 20
The Times / Sunday Times 13
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph 9.5
The Sun / News of the World 9
The Mirror / Sunday Mirror 6.5
The Express / Sunday Express 6
The Guardian / Observer 6
Financial Times 4
The Independent / Independent on Sunday 3.5
The Star 1.5

The general pattern of newspaper-reading among people who use the ombudsman service - as recorded in our market research - remains broadly similar to previous years' findings, with the number of consumers reading free newspapers such as Metro continuing to rise.

what's the socio-economic background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

Our analysis of the occupations of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman shows a distinct socio-economic shift among the consumers who now use our service.

Over the last couple of years, the proportion of complaints to the ombudsman from so-called "blue collar" workers has risen by 17%, while complaints from people from professional backgrounds ("white collar" workers) have fallen by 18%.

year ended 31 March AB ("white collar")
eg
teachers, nurses, police officers, solicitors, accountants
C1/C2 ("blue collar")
eg plumbers, electricians, office workers, supervisors
DE
eg shop workers, manual workers
2009 41% 53% 6%
2008 48% 47% 5%
2007 59% 36% 5%

This shift largely results from the changing pattern of complaints that consumers refer to the ombudsman service. From 2004 to 2007, between a half and two-thirds of all complaints related to mortgage endowments and were brought by mainly middle-aged homeowners.

But this has changed more recently as our remit has extended to cover consumer-credit businesses - for example, hire-purchase firms, debt collectors and catalogue-shopping companies, whose customers may now have access to the ombudsman for the first time.

People who bring consumer-credit complaints to the ombudsman service are younger, on average, than other consumers who use our service. And almost half of consumer-credit complaints are brought by women (who account for just over a third of complaints generally).

Consumers in the socio-economic groups C1 and C2 complained to the ombudsman service proportionately more about motor and household insurance (making up 57% of people complaining to us about these products) and less about investments.

On the other hand, people from AB socio-economic backgrounds accounted for only 36% of complaints about motor and household but over a half of all complaints about investments.

what's the occupational background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman? %
skilled trades (eg electricians, plumbers, mechanics) 30
managers and officials 22
professionals 16
administrative and secretarial 14
sales and customer service 5
"elementary" occupations (eg hotel & bar staff, farm-workers, postal workers) 5
personal services (eg care-assistants, dental nurses) 4
other (eg unemployed) 4
  %
employed 52
retired 26
self-employed / running own business 14
home responsibilities / not employed 7
studying 1

 

The socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service also reflects the focus of our outreach work with groups whose knowledge and use of us is lower than average. This work aims to help raise awareness of the right to bring financial disputes to the ombudsman service. There are more details later in this section about our awareness-raising and accessibility work.

We monitor the outcome of the complaints we resolve - looking at the age, gender, ethnicity and occupation of the consumers involved. The results of this monitoring continue to show that the proportion of cases we uphold in favour of the consumer is broadly consistent - regardless of who consumers are or what their background is.

consumers who do not use our service

As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers who use our service, we carry out market research into levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.

According to research during the year, 74% of people said they were aware of the Financial Ombudsman Service. Organisations with similar levels of awareness included the Greater London Authority (70%), the charity Mind (73%), Which? (75%) and the London Olympic Committee (79%). The research showed that people trusted the Financial Ombudsman Service more than the Church of England but less than Citizens Advice.

We also track how many people can actively name us on an unprompted basis. As part of our ongoing consumer research, a cross-section of adults - selected to reflect the adult population of the UK as a whole - are asked to "name the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial companies". During the year an average of 11% of consumers were able to name the Financial Ombudsman Service without prompting.

Our research includes monitoring how general awareness of the ombudsman varies over the year across different demographic and geographic areas. For example, the proportion of people who could name us, unprompted, at different times in the year ranged from 2% (of 18 to 24 year olds) to 22% (for those in the 35 to 54 age bracket). Awareness of the ombudsman service during the year has been highest in the North and South East and lowest in Northern Ireland.

During the year we launched a number of targeted consumer initiatives to help raise levels of awareness and use of the ombudsman service - where our research identified specific groups of more vulnerable consumers, or those who appeared to be less likely to know about, or to use, our service.

Our research with consumers who do not use our service shows consistently that around 12% say they have recently complained to a financial services business. Of those who say they remained unhappy after their complaint, usually over half take no further action.

We are particularly interested in the reasons why people do not refer unresolved complaints to the ombudsman at this stage. This helps us understand what barriers - real or perceived - may exist in accessing our service, and where we need to target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities or adjust our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

how do consumers respond to the ombudsman "brand" and identity?

During the year we commissioned market research into how consumers understand and respond to our branding and corporate identity. This involved face-to-face interviews with a range of consumers on issues such as our logo, our name, the look of our website and publications, and our core values.

The consumers interviewed showed a preference for formality rather than approachability in the way they felt the ombudsman service should position itself. When asked which of our core values they felt were most important, consumers ranked "knowledgeable and expert" significantly higher than "helpful and welcoming".

The fact that our service is free - and that we have the power to direct businesses to put things right - were also seen as very much more important than the fact that we were set up by Parliament or that we have a heritage going back 25 years.

which of our "core values" are the most important to consumers?

  % of consumers who say this is the most important "core value" % of consumers who express no view "core value" % of consumers who say this is the least important "core value"
that we're knowledgeable and expert 67 16 17
... independent and impartial 51 14 35
... capable and efficient 35 34 31
... helpful and welcoming 30 20 50
... respected and influential 17 16 67

what's the most important feature about the ombudsman to consumers?

  % of consumers who say this is the most important feature % of consumers who express no view % of consumers who say this is the least important feature
that the ombudsman is free-of-charge for consumers 57 28 15
... has official powers to get things put right 56 37 7
... is independent of the financial services sector 28 38 34
... has existed for 25 years 17 28 55
... was set up by law 12 24 64

Generally, the word ombudsman was not popular. However, 80% of those who took part in a follow-up survey on our website - on what people thought about our name - voted to keep the name ombudsman. And virtually no suggestions were made as to alternative names that might capture the special nature of what we do.

In the market research we commissioned, 76% of consumers were positive about the look of our website, with 82% feeling confident that they clearly understood our role from the homepage. 89% of consumers also found our consumer leaflet clear - with no difference between age groups or between male and female responses.

how do consumers who complain to the ombudsman rate our service?

  % of consumers who agreed % of consumers who expressed no view % of consumers who disagreed
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 69 17 14
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 63 14 23
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 61 19 20
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 37 16 47
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 63 12 25
we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends 69 12 19

The market research that we carry out continues to tell us that consumers want their complaints resolved as quickly as possible - as far as this is compatible with reaching a fair resolution. We have not been able to deal with complaints as quickly as we would have liked, because of the heavier-than-expected volume of new cases this year and the inevitable lead-in time involved in recruiting and training the new adjudicators needed. Improving the timeliness of our complaints handling remains a key priority for us.

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

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

  • 83% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 11% were dissatisfied; and
  • 6% expressed no view.

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

  • 42% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 39% were dissatisfied; and
  • 19% expressed no view.

88% of consumers who felt they had "won" their complaint said they would recommend our service to their friends and family. But only 50% of consumers who felt they had "lost" their case said they would do so.

This suggests that people's personal experience of our service is inevitably influenced by how they perceive the outcome of their own individual complaint. Unfortunately, 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. There is more information on our work to measure and improve quality in the section how we dealt with the complaints.

accessibility and consumer diversity

Being accessible is something we take very seriously. An individual's background or ability should not act as a barrier to their having a complaint handled by the ombudsman service. We decide cases on the facts themselves, not on how well either side argues and presents the facts.

Our work in this important area is informed by the high-level strategy set by our board, and co-ordinated and championed by our accessibility taskforce - comprising senior staff from across all areas of the ombudsman service. We also feed back on our accessibility work to the accessibility and transparency discussion group, made up of financial services practitioners and representatives from consumer organisations.

Our commitment to providing an accessible service involves recognising that a range of barriers can exist for many of our customers. Our demographic and market research helps us identify these barriers and better understand the impact they may have on particular groups.

In the section below we highlight the key areas during the year where, following research, we have prioritised specific outreach and awareness-raising activities - or adjusted our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

disability

14% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year (13% in the previous year) told us they had some form of disability - predominantly mobility difficulties.

Many of our disabled customers do not ask for - or require - any adjustment in the way we deal with their case. But we ask all consumers when they first contact us whether they would like us to adapt the way we communicate with them, to meet any particular needs they may have.

disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
mobility difficulties 32
breathing difficulties (including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema) 30
mental health issues 6
hearing impairment 6
sight impairment 4
learning difficulties 3
other 19

Demand continued to increase during the year for information in alternative formats such as Braille, large print and on CD/DVD. We also use TypeTalk, sign language and "accessible text" (sometimes also called "EasyRead").

To be able to understand better the issues that disabled people face in dealing with financial services or making a complaint, we took part in a range of events during the year - including Mobility Roadshows in Coventry and Edinburgh, the Beyond Boundaries disability lifestyle-show in Kent, and the EnAble'08 event in the West Midlands.

We worked in partnership with Able - the disability magazine and website - to help raise the profile of the ombudsman both as an employer and as a dispute-resolution service. And we also advertised in magazines such as Disability Review, Progress and Disability Now.

We worked closely with PALS (the Patient Advice and Liaison Service) and RADAR (the disability network) - as well as taking part in the national Nursing in Practice show. This formed part of our outreach programme with "trusted individuals" in the community.

Health issues can have a far-reaching impact, involving possible financial problems that could lead to complaints. So it is useful for front-line health workers and carers to know about the ombudsman - to be able to "signpost" people to our service where appropriate.

During the year we set up our in-house different needs group - made up of operational staff across the organisation. This group has responsibility for promoting confidence in dealing flexibly and practically with customers' different needs in individual cases.

This group helped to organise our different needs awareness-event, held in partnership with six disability charities. This was a two-day in-house training event, attended by 700 staff and our board. It involved learning first-hand about the range of barriers that people with different disabilities can face.

consumers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds

During the year we took part in national melas (Asian lifestyle festivals) in Glasgow and London, as well as a range of local and community events including a women's day organised through the East London Mosque and Vaisakhi celebrations for the Sikh new year.

We marked Black History Month with a feature in the official Black History Month magazine profiling one of our ombudsmen - who was the first BME ombudsman in the UK. We also continued our partnership with Zee, the Asian media group, and with Network News, the magazine and website aimed at a younger BME audience. This resulted in a series of features, articles and information pieces across the Black and Asian media.

These initiatives are part of our response to research that suggests that consumers from minority ethnic backgrounds are generally less likely to know about the ombudsman - either as a dispute-resolution service or as a potential employer. Just over 9% of people who used our service during the year defined themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group (8% in the previous year). 15% of employees at the ombudsman service come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (14% in the previous year).

Consumers from ethnic minority backgrounds complain proportionately more to us about bank accounts and about motor and household insurance - and less about pensions, annuities and bonds.

younger consumers

The proportion of complaints to the ombudsman service brought by younger people - though larger than in earlier years - does not appear to correspond to their increasing ownership of financial products, which typically includes travel, motor and mobile-phone insurance, bank accounts and store cards. Our research continues to show that, of all age groups, consumers under 25 have the lowest level of awareness of the ombudsman.

Younger people generally access information in different ways from their parents. So we have explored different ways of communicating with this age group - and we work with a range of specialist partners to get our message across. This includes featuring tailored messages in a range of niche youth-magazines (print and online) - as well as developing an internet presence for the ombudsman on social-networking sites such as YouTube, Bebo and Facebook.

Building on coverage in The Graduate Guide and the What's On student guide, we took part in a number of freshers' fairs - to meet students face-to-face and hear about their experience of financial services and complaining. And we continued to provide targeted information for teachers, lecturers, school governors and youth-workers - as the "trusted individuals" to whom young people are likely to turn with a financial problem or complaint.

Following on from the poster-campaign that we unveiled at last year's Trading Standards Young Consumers of the Year competition, we launched a new series of posters and postcards during the year, specially designed with younger consumers in mind. We also sponsored the regional finals of 2009 Young Consumers of the Year.

To show how the ombudsman could be relevant to younger women, we focused on the link between fashion and finance - taking our exhibition stand to Clothes Show Live at Birmingham NEC and supporting a student fashion show in Glasgow.

older consumers

Focusing on a period in life when consumers are likely to face significant change - and important financial challenges and decisions - we launched an initiative during the year to remind older and retired people about their right as consumers to use the ombudsman service, should they have a dispute with a financial business.

We launched this initiative at the Retirement Show held at London Olympia and Glasgow SECC. We also took part in the Caravan and Motorhome Show at Birmingham NEC, where we met large numbers of consumers and heard at first hand about their experience of financial services and complaining.

We formed media partnerships with Choice, a lifestyle magazine for people over 50, and Retirement Today - resulting in a series of features and articles about our work. Other publications targeting this age bracket that covered the ombudsman service during the year ranged from Arthritis Times to silversurfersguide.com.

A significant element of our outreach work with older consumers has involved engagement with "trusted individuals" in the community - including Age Concern, Help the Aged, RNID, PALS, the Women's Institute and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP).

Northern Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

In response to research showing lower levels of awareness of the ombudsman in Northern Ireland and the remoter parts of Scotland, we launched awareness-raising campaigns in these areas in the late spring of 2009.

These campaigns included running a competition for younger people in Northern Ireland - to see how they would explain and promote the role of the ombudsman using new media. The competition was a joint initiative with the Northern Ireland Consumer Council and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum.

We also organised an "ombudsman tour" in Scotland, meeting consumers and advice workers at advice-clinics and drop-in days held in Inverness, Oban, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.