annual review 2009/2010
1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010
who complained to us
- what kind of consumer uses the ombudsman service?
age | gender | where they live | how they heard about the ombudsman | newspaper readership | media coverage | socio-economic background | occupational background
- our website users
age | how they found out about our site | stage of their complaint
- general awareness of the ombudsman service
- trust and values
- consumers who do not use our service
- how do consumers rate our service?
how does the outcome of a complaint affect this?
- accessibility and diversity
disability | black and minority ethnic consumers | younger consumers | older consumers | the diversity of our workforce
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 requirements and expectations.
This type of information also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is less well known and used. We use this information as part of our work to:
- adjust our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues;
- respond to the needs of our customers and stakeholders;
- meet our commitment to equality and diversity;
- target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities.
- 4% were under 25
- 16% were 25 to 34
- 24% were 35 to 44
- 24% were 45 to 54
- 20% were 55 to 65
- 12% were over 65
The extent to which people in different age groups use the ombudsman service has remained broadly similar over the last three years.
Two thirds of consumers who use our service are between the ages of 35 and 65. Around half the UK population are between these ages. This “over-representation” of people in the middle age-brackets reflects the fact that they are more likely to own a wider range of financial products – and are also more likely to know about their consumer rights, including their right to complain to the ombudsman.
Consumers aged under 25 and over 65 use our service proportionately less – compared with the number of people in these age groups in the population generally.
However, almost a quarter of all complaints during the year about investments were brought to the ombudsman by consumers over 65. And consumers under 25 were proportionately up to three times more likely to complain to us about car or motorbike insurance compared with all other age groups.
- female: 38%
- male: 62%
Men continue to complain more to the ombudsman service than women. However, the proportion of women who brought complaints to us during the year increased by 1% – continuing a slow but steady upward trend over recent years. We believe this reflects our continued outreach activities, especially with younger women.
Men and women are equally likely to complain most about payment protection insurance (PPI), current accounts and credit cards – in that order.
Many complaints relate to accounts and policies that are held jointly, where conventionally the first-named account-holder (the name our system records) is generally a male partner.
This table shows where consumers live who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year. The proportions of people living in Scotland and Wales who used our service each increased by 1% – with similar-sized decreases in complaints from the South East and South West of England.
|region where consumers who complain to us live||%|
|South East (including Greater London)||29|
|live outside the UK||2|
Comparing these figures with regional population data helps us monitor awareness and use of our service across the regions and nations. The location of people using the ombudsman service continues broadly to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole – although a proportionately higher number of people from Wales and London used our service and fewer complaints came from Scotland and Yorkshire.
Generally speaking, we saw a similar pattern of complaints about most financial products across all areas of the UK. However, a higher proportion of complaints from the North related to payment protection insurance (PPI) than in the South. For example, 32% of complaints from the North East of England involved PPI in comparison with 20% in the South East.
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?||%|
|in the press||32|
|from a friend, relative or colleague||19|
|told by a financial business||18|
|on the internet||15|
|from a consumer-advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice)||8|
|other ombudsman or complaints scheme||2|
So we would expect a significant proportion of consumers who bring complaints to us to say they were told about the ombudsman by the business they complained to. However, the proportion of consumers who say that this is how they first heard about us fell by 4% during the year.
On the other hand, a growing number of consumers continue to say they first heard about us through friends, relatives and colleagues – or on the internet. The proportion of people who say they first heard about the ombudsman through these channels of communication rose over the year by 5%. This shows the increasing importance of word of mouth and social media in widening awareness of the ombudsman.
97% of people who got in touch with us said they had no problem finding our contact details. And the proportion of consumers who said that we were very easy to contact increased by 12% – reflecting our continued initiatives to promote consumer awareness of our service, especially in areas where our research shows that knowledge of the ombudsman is weaker.
|which newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman?||%|
|regional and free papers (including Metro)||22|
|Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday||21|
|The Sun / News of the World||12|
|The Times / Sunday Times||11|
|The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph||8|
|The Mirror / Sunday Mirror||7|
|The Guardian / Observer||6|
|The Express / Sunday Express||5|
|The Independent / Independent on Sunday||3|
During the year there has been a significant shift in the newspapers that consumers who use the ombudsman service tell us they read. The proportion of “broadsheet” readers has slipped by 5% – with the Sun, the News of the World and the Mirror gaining ground. This seems to reflect the continuing shift in the socio-economic background of consumers who now use our service.
This pattern of newspaper readership also roughly reflects the media that cover the ombudsman service most frequently.
|which media cover the ombudsman most frequently?||%|
|Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday*||5|
|The Times / Sunday Times*||5|
|other print publications||31|
|other online coverage||37|
*print and online versions
Over the year, almost half of all media coverage of the ombudsman service was online, rather than in traditional print format. Online coverage of the ombudsman service appeared on a very wide range of websites – run by voluntary and community groups, businesses and business networks, and government and public sector bodies – as well as the online versions of “traditional” newspapers and magazines.
The media that covered the ombudsman service most frequently during the year included national newspapers, specialist business-to-business publications, and consumer websites.
|year ended 31 March||AB
professional and managerial
skilled and semi-skilled
Our analysis of the occupations of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman shows a steady socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service. Over the last three years, the proportion of complaints to the ombudsman from skilled and semi-skilled workers has risen by 21%, while complaints from people from professional and managerial backgrounds have fallen by 23%.
This shift may reflect the type of complaints that consumers refer to the ombudsman service – and the financial products and services involved. Between 2004 to 2007, up to two-thirds of the complaints we handled related to mortgage endowments and were brought by mainly middle-aged homeowners.
But since 2007 we have seen significant increases in complaints involving current accounts, overdrafts, credit and payment protection insurance (PPI) – products which are held extensively by a much wider socio-economic range of consumers.
Consumers in the socio-economic groups C1 and C2 complained to the ombudsman service proportionately more about savings plans and bonds (making up 62% of people complaining to us about these products) and less about pensions and annuities.
On the other hand, people from AB socio-economic backgrounds accounted for less than a third of complaints about consumer credit but over half of all complaints about investments. And people from DE backgrounds complained proportionately more about consumer credit and least about investments. Almost two thirds of complaints to the ombudsman service about PPI were from consumers in the socio-economic groups C1 and C2.
|self-employed / running own business||13|
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.
As part of our commitment to diversity and equality, we closely monitor the outcome of the complaints we resolve at the different stages of our process – to ensure we are treating everyone fairly and equally. 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 their background.
During the year we recorded a monthly average of 210,000 visits to our website. On the busiest day of the year, 14,623 people logged on to the website. There is more information elsewhere in this report about how our website forms a key part of our front-line service to customers.
To find out more about our website users, we run a web-based user-survey over a three month period each year. Key findings from this year’s survey showed that:
- 52% of people were first-time visitors and 48% had already been on our website previously;
- 56% of users were male and 44% female;
- 81% were consumers visiting for personal use and 19% were on our website for business purposes;
- 66% of users said they would definitely visit the site again and 26% said they would probably do so.
Knowing what kind of people do and do not access our website is very important for us. It helps us when assessing the most appropriate channels of communication to get our messages across effectively. It also helps us in considering the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of engaging with customers and delivering our service (whether online, by phone or by correspondence).
|what age are our website users?||% who use our website||% who complain to the ombudsman|
Over the last couple of years, the proportion of older people using our website has increased steadily. But we are aware that a significant number of older people still do not or cannot use the internet. While new technology opens up many opportunities for consumers, it can also act as a barrier to those who are less enabled. This is something we take very seriously when we consider the accessibility of our communications and the way we deliver our service.
Information from our online survey suggests that where people live who use our website broadly reflects wider patterns of internet access across the UK – with more online visitors from urban areas where levels of internet use (and broadband connections) are higher, and proportionately fewer online visitors from rural areas.
|how did our website users find out about our site?||%|
|through an internet search-engine||44|
|told by a financial services business||23|
|through a link on another website||14|
|from a friend or colleague||14|
|in the press||5|
We have seen a continuing increase in the number of people who said they found our website through internet searches – mostly using Google. Using “search engine optimisation” techniques, we aim to make sure that links to our website are listed prominently in the results shown for relevant internet searches.
The proportion of people using our website who said they were only browsing or thinking about complaining continued to fall during the year. Most people who use our website are already actively involved in pursuing a complaint, either with the business involved or directly with us.
People who were able to actively name us, without prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses:
|spring 2009||summer 2009||autumn 2009||spring 2010|
People who said they had definitely heard about us, when they were told our name:
|spring 2009||summer 2009||autumn 2009||spring 2010|
People who said they thought they might have heard about us, when they were told our name:
|spring 2009||summer 2009||autumn 2009||spring 2010|
People who did not recognise our name or know who we were:
|spring 2009||summer 2009||autumn 2009||spring 2010|
As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service, we continue to research levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.
Over the year levels of awareness of the ombudsman have increased steadily. By the end of the year, almost one in five of the adult population were able to actively name us, without prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses.
Those least likely to recognise our name or know about us are mostly younger people and people from DE socio-economic backgrounds.
The proportion of people who could name us, without prompting, at different times in the year ranged from 9% (of 18 to 24 years olds) to 22% (for those in the 45 to 54 age bracket). Unprompted awareness of the ombudsman service during the year has been highest in Wales (20%) and lowest in Northern Ireland (2%). 10% of Asian consumers could name us without prompting – while 28% of Chinese consumers could do so.
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. There are more details later in this section about this aspect of our awareness-raising and accessibility work.
Our consumer research monitors the level of trust that people have in the ombudsman service. Across the UK public as a whole, 69% of people say they would trust the ombudsman service.
This compares with 75% of people who say they would trust Trading Standards and 81% of people who say they would trust Citizens Advice. On the other hand, levels of consumer trust in financial services trade associations appear significantly lower – between 40 and 55%.
Surveys of people who had personally used our service show that this direct contact with us significantly increased their trust in the ombudsman service – with eight out of ten of these consumers saying they trusted us, and half saying they had complete trust in us.
Our online user-survey also monitors how people rate us against our “core values”. During the year we were given the following positive ratings:
- helpful and approachable: 75%
- independent and impartial: 74%
- authoritative and knowledgeable: 72%
- capable and efficient: 68%
- respected and influential: 73%
Our research into levels of general awareness of the ombudsman service consistently shows that around 15% of consumers say they have recently made a formal complaint to a financial services business. Of those who say they remained dissatisfied with the business’s response to their complaint, around a 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.
The majority of consumers who do not pursue unresolved complaints to the ombudsman service say this is because they do not have the time, have other priorities, or do not think it worth the trouble for the amount of money involved. Far fewer say it is because they do not know about the ombudsman or do not understand the complaints process.
|% of consumers who agree||% of consumers who express no view||% of consumers who disagree|
|we handle complaints efficiently and professionally||74||14||12|
|we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly||68||11||21|
|our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased||65||15||20|
|we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time||47||15||38|
|we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers||68||10||22|
|we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends||74||10||16|
During the year there was an increase in positive feedback from consumers on the level of service we provided. Improvements in all ratings resulted in a 5% rise in overall customer satisfaction. Fewer consumers than in previous years were unwilling or unable to express a view on the standards of our service.
The proportion of people who agreed that we settle complaints within an acceptable length of time increased by 10% – and the number of people dissatisfied with our timeliness fell by 9%.
This reflects the improvement in the timeliness of our complaints handling over the year. However, this remains a key priority for us – and we are committed to further improving timeliness next year.
74% of people whose complaints we handled during the year said that they would recommend us to family and friends – compared with 69% in the previous year.
There is a strong link between consumer satisfaction and the outcome of consumers’ complaints. Of those consumers who said they felt they had “won” their complaint:
- 87% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
- 5% were dissatisfied; and
- 8% expressed no view.
In contrast, of those consumers who said they felt they had “lost” their complaint:
- 46% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
- 38% were dissatisfied; and
- 16% expressed no view.
Of consumers who felt they had “won” their complaint, 91% said they would recommend our service. 52% of those who felt they had “lost” their case said they would do so.
This shows how people’s personal experience of our service is significantly influenced by how they perceive the outcome of their own individual complaint.
Unfortunately, we cannot please everyone. But seeking the views of those who have used our service is an essential part of finding out where we can improve.
Being accessible is something we take very seriously. We see this as part of our commitment to treating everyone we deal with equally. Someone’s background or ability should not act as a barrier to having their complaint considered fairly and impartially.
Similarly, we see diversity as an asset that helps deliver our vision of a service that meets the needs of all our customers and stakeholders. We work towards an “equality and diversity standard” in the way we provide our service – to help us identify and overcome any barriers that may prevent potential customers from accessing our services or that could work to the detriment of those already using our service.
Our work in this important area is informed by the high-level strategy set by our board – and is co-ordinated and championed by our accessibility taskforce that comprises senior staff from all areas of the ombudsman service.
During the year we have re-examined our approach to diversity and equality, working strategically with external consultants specialising in this area.
Our in-house customer service group – made up of operational staff across the ombudsman service – also carries out a range of activities, to help keep us focused on the fact that each customer may have particular needs to be taken into account.
We highlight below the key areas where, following research and analysis, we have prioritised specific outreach and awareness-raising activities during the year – or adjusted our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.
14% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year (the same percentage as in the previous year) told us they had some form of disability – predominantly mobility difficulties. This is broadly in line with the estimated number of disabled people in the UK.
|disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman||%|
|arthritis and manual dexterity difficulties||16|
|heart and circulatory problems (eg stroke)||10|
|respiratory disease and breathing difficulties (eg asthma)||7|
|mental health issues||6|
|organ and nervous system disorders & disease (eg diabetes, MS)||6|
|learning difficulties (eg dyslexia)||2|
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.
Our staff all receive training to help promote their confidence in dealing sensitively and practically with customers’ different needs. Following our different needs awareness-event last year – held in-house in partnership with six disability charities, and attended by 700 staff and our board – we are currently planning a further staff-training campaign with a focus on learning disabilities and mental health issues.
During the year we focused on improving the way we identify different customer needs – and on adapting our approach to meeting those needs. This helps explain the doubling of cases where we provided information for customers in alternative formats such as large print, Braille, and sign language recorded on DVD. We also continued to use Text Relay (formerly known as "TypeTalk") and "accessible text" (sometimes also called "EasyRead").
|meeting customers' different communication needs||%|
|using colour-tinted paper||5|
|British Sign Language on DVD||5|
|meeting different needs in other ways||17|
We aim to take a flexible approach in cases where a particular disability makes it necessary to adapt our more usual means of communicating with customers. Cases where there was no ready-made solution included a customer with multiple chemical sensitivity triggered by certain types of paper, a quadriplegic customer, and a consumer who told us she had “a fear of paper” and found “many aspects of the written word menacing”.
To be able to understand better the issues that disabled people face in dealing with financial services or making a complaint, we continue to take part in a range of disability events. During the year this included Naidex (the UK’s largest event for homecare, disability and rehabilitation) at Birmingham NEC; Independent Living Scotland (the homecare, disability and rehabilitation exhibition) at the SECC Glasgow; the Disability North show in Newcastle; and the South West Disability show in Exeter.
We continue to work in partnership with Able – the disability lifestyle-magazine and website – to help raise the profile of the ombudsman both as an employer and as a dispute-resolution service. And we also featured in magazines such as the brain-injury charity Rehab’s magazine Renew, RADAR’s New Bulletin and Disability Review Magazine.
As part of the continuing development of our website, we worked during the year with the disability charity, the Shaw Trust. This involved having our website tested by disabled users to ensure its accessibility to people using “assistive technologies” (for example, speech browsers).
Our research continues to show 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.
However, levels of awareness of our service vary significantly between different communities. For example, during the year 10% of Asian consumers could actively name us without prompting, while 28% of Chinese consumers could do so.
10.5% of people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year defined themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group (9% in the previous year and 8% in the year before that). This broadly reflects the figure for the population as a whole.
Consumers from ethnic minority backgrounds were proportionately most likely to complain about consumer credit and motor and household insurance – and least likely to complain about pensions and mortgage endowments.
As well as attending the annual Asian ZEE Carnival at London Olympia, we took part in melas (multicultural lifestyle festivals) in Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle, Cardiff and Oldham. This gave us the opportunity to meet consumers face-to-face from different communities and listen to their experience of financial services. We also sponsored the UK Mela guide, to highlight the relevance of the ombudsman to the Asian community.
We again marked Black History Month with a feature in the official Black History Month magazine (profiling one of our ombudsmen, the first BME ombudsman in the UK). We also took part in the Coventry Caribbean Festival and in the Black History Month celebrations on London’s South Bank.
We continued our long-term partnership with ZEE magazine, featuring in their Eid and Diwali issue, the Asian business supplement, and a special focus on employment opportunities at the ombudsman service. We also worked with magazines such as Asian Voice, Asian News and The Voice.
During the year we worked with the traveller and gypsy community, following complaints about the way in which financial institutions required proof of address and identity. We have also seen similar issues in our work with the migrant-worker community.
what ethnic background are our website users?
In our online survey carried out during the year, 19% of our website users defined themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group. This includes a higher proportion of Asian consumers using our website than consumers from other ethnic groups.
This reflects research indicating higher levels of internet use among the Asian community more generally. Taking this into account, we have focused particularly on the internet as a way of promoting messages to the Asian community about the ombudsman and complaints prevention.
In November 2009 the ombudsman’s remit was extended to cover money-transfer businesses (under the Payment Services Directive). To raise awareness of how this meant the ombudsman could help with disputes relating to money sent overseas, we focused on the ethnic press and made contact with 36 specialist media outlets, ranging from Sing Tao Daily to blacknet.co.uk.
Working in our own neighbourhood in East London, we continued to liaise with local faith and community groups. This included an initiative with the Bangladeshi community to promote our role in resolving money-transfer disputes.
Proportionately fewer younger people bring complaints to the ombudsman service than consumers from other age groups.
This may reflect the fact that younger people generally own fewer financial products than older, more financially-established consumers. But although younger people are less likely to have investments and pensions, they are likely to have loans, credit cards and bank accounts and to take out travel, motor and mobile-phone insurance.
Our research also shows that, of all age groups, consumers under 25 have the lowest level of awareness of the ombudsman – with only 9% during the year able to actively name us, without prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses (compared to 22% of people aged 45 to 54).
For these reasons, we are particularly keen to focus on younger consumers – to help raise awareness of their right to complain and the role of the ombudsman. Recognising that younger people access information differently from their parents, 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). We also have an internet presence for the ombudsman on social-networking sites such as YouTube. But on the advice of the young people we meet and consult with, we keep our social media messages simple and low key.
During the year, we have targeted students with timely information about debt-related complaints. This has included coverage in publications such as The Graduate Guide, The Student Guide and Student Times – as well as taking part in freshers’ fairs and student money-advice events, to meet younger people face-to-face and hear about their experience of financial services.
We also 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. This included sponsoring the regional finals of the 2009 Young Consumers of the Year competition – as well as the finals of the Young Consumer Challenge which helps young people with learning difficulties become better-informed and more confident consumers.
Other youth-focused activities during the year included:
- taking part in the Gadget Show Live at Birmingham NEC – to encourage young high-spending consumers to confront and deal with financial problems;
- giving students at the London College of Beauty Therapy some practical tips on consumer rights and money problems – to share as “small talk” with their clients;
- featuring in the Festival Guide, distributed at the main music festivals across the UK.
A third of consumers who referred complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were aged 55 or over – and over a quarter of people using our service were retired.
A major focus of our outreach work is 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. This work also helps us better understand the issues faced by older people in their dealings with financial services.
Research shows a significant and growing divergence within the older age-groups between consumers who are eager and capable users of technology and those who cannot, or do not, use computers and the internet.
To reflect this, our strategy for communicating with older people includes taking part in face-to-face events – such as the Caravan and Motorhome Show, the Retirement Show, Fab@50+!, and our drop-in complaints-clinics run in partnership with local consumer advice agencies. We also feature on “silver surfer” websites.
We have continued our partnership with Retirement Today and with Choice, the lifestyle magazine for people over 50. This has resulted in a series of features and articles about our work. We have also taken part in a number of media interviews and conferences focusing on ageing and financial services. This has involved close liaison with the charity Age UK (combining Age Concern and Help the Aged) on both practical matters and policy work.
The average age of employees at the ombudsman service during the year was 36. Across our workforce as a whole, 55% were male and 45% female – the same for the panel of ombudsmen. 17% of our employees were from ethnic minority backgrounds.