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annual review 2012/2013

1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013

who complained to us

understanding more about consumers

We need to know what kinds of consumers bring complaints to the ombudsman service - so that we can provide a service that meets their needs and expectations.

Understanding who our customers are also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is less well known and used.

We carry out a wide range of research to find out more about our customers as part of our work to:

  • Identify and respond to what people who use our service - and our stakeholders more generally - want and expect from us.
  • Update and improve the way we work to make our service easier to use and more tailored to individual needs.
  • Adjust how we work in individual cases to address particular accessibility issues.
  • Meet our commitment to equality and inclusion.
  • Target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities.

the age of consumers who complained to us

  • 2% were under 25
  • 13% were 25 to 34
  • 20% were 35 to 44
  • 24% were 45 to 54
  • 17% were 55 to 65
  • 24% were over 65

The number of consumers bringing complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service over the last few years has increased substantially. During this time the total proportion of people in each age group has remained broadly consistent – with the exception of consumers over 65 who now account for 24% of the people who use our service (compared with 20% in the previous year and 12% in 2008/2009).

This largely reflects the growing number of older people who are now referring complaints to us about payment protection insurance (PPI).

For example, in the financial year 2012/2013 22% of the complaints we received from consumers aged over 65 related to PPI – compared to just 11% in 2010/2011.

The continued rise in the number of cases from older people may also reflect our outreach work with older and retired people over the last few years - with more consumers in the older age groups showing increased confidence in complaining.

Around six out of ten consumers who use our service are between the ages of 35 and 65. This reflects the fact that they are more likely to have a wider range of financial products.

Our research also shows that people in these age groups are generally also more likely to know about their consumer rights, including their right to complain to the ombudsman.

PPI is the most complained about financial product across all age groups – except consumers under 25 who complain the most about bank accounts. While just 16% of complaints from consumers under 25 related to PPI, this number rose to 42% for people aged 35 to 44.

the most complained-about products - by age group

ages most complained-about product
%
2nd most complained-about product
%
3rd most complained-about product
%
other products complained about  %
under 25 bank accounts 
36%
PPI
16%
motor insurance
16%
32%
25 to 34 PPI
38%
loans
22%
bank accounts
18%
22%
35 to 44 PPI
42%
loans
22%
bank accounts
11%
25%
45 to 54 PPI
41%
loans
21%
investments and pensions
10%
28%
55 to 64 PPI
36%
investments and pensions
18%
loans
11%
35%
over 65 PPI
22%
bank accounts
21%
investments and pensions
16%
41%

We monitor closely the types of people who contact our consumer helpline - and compare these with the types of consumer who subsequently pursue a case with us formally. This enables us to see if there are any differences in the kinds of people who use our service at the various different stages of our process.

Our research continues to show that people in all age groups are equally likely to refer a complaint to us, once they have contacted us informally on our consumer helpline.

Consumers under 25 and over 65 are slightly less likely to have their complaints upheld than people in other age groups - but this reflects the products they complain about.

As highlighted above, younger consumers and those over 65 are proportionately less likely to complain about PPI - where we uphold a higher number of cases in the consumer's favour.

the age of consumers who pursued complaints to the final stage - for an ombudsman's decision

  • 1% were under 25
  • 9% were 25 to 34
  • 17% were 35 to 44
  • 24% were 45 to 54
  • 20% were 55 to 65
  • 29% were over 65

Younger consumers are significantly more likely than those in other age groups to agree at an earlier stage with an adjudicator's view or informal settlement - and less likely to request a formal ombudsman's decision.

In fact, the proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's final decision increases by age group. People aged over 65 are substantially more likely than people of any other age to pursue their case to the final stage - and this number increased again during the year, from 26% to 29%.

This probably reflects the types of financial products involved. As people get older, they generally have more complex products like investments and pensions - areas where ombudsmen are proportionately more involved in making decisions, given the larger amounts of money often at stake.

For example, 14% of complaints brought by consumers over 65 related to investments and pensions - but these products featured in fewer than 1% of the cases brought by people aged under 35. On the other hand, younger people are more likely to refer complaints to the ombudsman service about current accounts.

the gender of consumers who complained to us

  • female: 38%
  • male: 62%

Men continue to complain more to the ombudsman service than women. 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 generally a male partner.

We also look at the financial products that men and women complain about to see if there are any differences between genders. The three products that women and men complain about the most are:

  • Payment protection insurance (35% of women's complaints and 34% of men's).
  • Credit cards (10% of women's complaints and men's complaints alike).
  • Current accounts (10% of women's complaints and 8% of men's).

Research we carried out during the year showed that women were a third less likely than men to say they had a problem with a financial product or service.

Women were also less likely to pursue complaints with us formally, after they had contacted us initially on our consumer helpline - for advice and guidance at an early stage.

However, our research also showed that if women felt their problem was still unresolved, they would be more likely than men to pursue the matter. And the proportion of women who said they would escalate their complaint if they remained dissatisfied with the business's response rose significantly over the year - from 42% to 53%.

Women were also 11% less likely than men to be satisfied with the business's response to a complaint they had pursued.

... 53% of women said they'd pursue their complaint

Taking into account the fact that the proportion of complaints we uphold varies according to the financial product involved - and that the proportion of products complained about by women and men varies slightly - there is no difference in the outcome of cases based on gender.

There is also no difference between men and women in the proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's decision to settle a case finally.

consumers' complaints - by region and nation

This table shows where consumers who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year live. The spread of our customers across the UK remained broadly the same as in previous years.

region where consumers who complain to us live %
South East (including Greater London) 29.5
Midlands 19
North West 12
North East 9
Scotland 9
South West 9
East Anglia 5.5
Wales 4
Northern Ireland 2.5
outside the UK 0.5

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 generally to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

We also continued to see a similar pattern of complaints about most financial products across all areas of the UK. The main exceptions were for complaints involving:

  • Payment protection insurance (PPI) - which made up 42% of complaints from the North East of England compared with 30% from the South East.
  • Current accounts - which made up 10% of complaints from the South East and 6% of complaints from the North East.

where people phoned us from the most

  1. Bristol
  2. Hull
  3. Birmingham
  4. Liverpool
  5. Glasgow
  6. Swansea
  7. Nottingham
  8. Croydon
  9. Bolton
  10. Manchester
  11. Blackburn
  12. Lambeth, London
  13. Camden, London
  14. Leicester
  15. Hackney, London
  16. Sheffield
  17. Bridgend
  18. Belfast
  19. Bradford
  20. Cardiff

The places where people called us from the most were generally more densely-populated and diverse urban and suburban areas across the UK. Unsurprisingly, we received fewest calls from more remote areas of Wales and Scotland.

how consumers who referred complaints to us knew about the ombudsman

how consumers who referred complaints to us knew about the ombudsman %
from a financial business 33
on the internet 20
in the media (press and broadcast) 14
from a friend, relative or colleague 13
from a consumer-advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 6
from a claims-management company 3
other 11

For the second year running, the proportions of people with complaints who said they knew about us from the internet, the media or through word of mouth all fell slightly. However, there was an increase from 31% to 33% in the number who said they knew about us because the business they had complained to had told them about the ombudsman.

This probably reflects the fact that the complaints-handling rules require businesses covered by the ombudsman service 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.

Men are more likely than women to say they found out about us from the financial business.

36% of people from professional and managerial (AB) backgrounds and 35% of skilled and semi-skilled people (C1/C2) told us they had heard about us from the business they had complained to. This figure fell to 22% of unskilled people (DE) - who were more likely to rely on friends, colleagues and family to tell them about us.

The importance of traditional media as a way of finding out about us continued to decline during the year - from 15% to 14%. This is particularly linked to how old consumers are.

For example, our research continues to show that younger people rely significantly less on the press to find out about us. Compared to people over 55 they are more than twice as likely to know about us through friends, colleagues and family.

... younger people are more than twice as likely to know about us through friends, relatives and colleagues

However, their strong reliance on social networks does not extend to the way in which younger people use the internet to find out about the ombudsman.

As in previous years, the heaviest internet users - in terms of those who said they first heard about us online - were people aged between 35 and 44, not people under 25.

This is consistent with other feedback from students and younger people on what they use the internet for. In our research, younger people have been clear that we should develop only a low-key social-media presence to communicate with them.

However, women and Asian consumers continued to show a particular preference for the internet in terms of finding out about our service.

newspapers read by the consumers who complained to us

newspapers read by the consumers who complained to us %
regional and free papers (including Metro) 25
Daily Mail / The Mail on Sunday 20
The Sun 11
The Times / The Sunday Times 9
The Daily Mirror 8
The Telegraph / The Sunday Telegraph 7
The Express 6
The Guardian / Observer 6
The Independent / The Independent on Sunday 3
Financial Times 3
Star 2

Over the last few years we have seen an increasing proportion of people telling us they read regional and free papers, especially Metro - which reaches across 15 UK cities and metropolitan areas. Readership of other newspapers is generally seen to be declining.

Telegraph readers and people who read the Mirror use the ombudsman service in equal numbers - reflecting the mix of consumers who use our service.

... reading newspapers becomes increasingly important the older people are

Our research continues to show that the extent to which people find out about us by reading newspapers becomes increasingly important the older people are. Younger consumers rely significantly less on national newspapers to find out about the ombudsman service.

media coverage of the ombudsman

media coverage of the ombudsman %
BBC 9
Daily Mail / The Mail on Sunday 5
The Times / The Sunday Times  4
Money Marketing 3
The Guardian / Observer 3
The Independent / The Independent on Sunday 2
Mortgage Strategy 2
The Telegraph / The Sunday Telegraph 2
thisismoney.co.uk 2
The Scotsman 2
other coverage 66

During the year we featured in around 6,000 media stories - including more than 550 broadcasts. We took part in over 200 TV and radio interviews - from Sky News to student radio. This also included interviews and phone-ins on over 50 local and regional radio stations from BBC Radio Orkney to BBC Radio Cornwall.

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. In addition, 950 organisations now link directly from their websites to ours.

the socio-economic background of consumers who complained to the ombudsman

year ended 31 March AB
professional and managerial
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled
DE
unskilled
2013 38% 55% 7%
2012 34% 54% 12%
2011 35% 57% 8%
2010 36% 57% 7%
2009 41% 53% 6%
2008 48% 47% 5%
2007 59% 36% 5%

Our research suggests that consumers from DE backgrounds are significantly less likely to complain to a financial business - and where they do so, they are more likely than any other socio-economic group to be satisfied with the financial business's response.

On the other hand, our research shows that AB consumers are more likely to have a wider range of financial products and services - and are the most likely to consider they have had a problem with a financial business.

These factors are clearly reflected in the type of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman service - if they remain unhappy with the financial business's response.

During the year - for complaints about all financial products - we upheld:

  • 54% of complaints from AB consumers;
  • 55% of complaints from C1/C2 consumers; and
  • 51% of complaints from DE consumers.

the financial products consumers complained about - by socio-economic background

AB
professional and managerial %
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled %
DE
unskilled %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 25 30 36
loans 23 18 13
bank accounts 15 15 8
investments and pensions 10 7 12
motor and household insurance 8 8 11
other 19 22 20

The financial products most frequently complained about are the same across the different socio-economic groups of consumers.

However, the order in which the socio-economic groups complain about these products differs slightly - other than for PPI and loans. For example, for people from ABC backgrounds, bank accounts are the third most complained about product.

People from the DE group complain more about investments and insurance than about bank accounts.

The relative proportion of complaints about these products also varies significantly. For example, 23% of complaints from AB consumers are about loans - compared with 13% for DE consumers. On the other hand, 36% of DE consumers complained about PPI - compared with 25% of AB consumers.

the occupational background of consumers who complained to us %
skilled trades (for example, electricians, plumbers, mechanics) 21
administrative and secretarial 20
managers and officials 19
professionals 17
personal services (for example, care assistants, dental nurses) 9
sales and customer service 7
"elementary" occupations (for example, hotel and bar staff, farm workers, postal workers) 6
process and plant work (for example,machinery operatives, assembly-line workers) 1

The occupational backgrounds of consumers using our service continued to shift during the year. The proportion of professionals fell from 19% to 17%, while the number of managers and officials rose from 15% to 19%.

The proportion of people using the ombudsman who work in administrative and secretarial jobs increased substantially - from 13% to 20%. But the number of people in skilled trades using our service fell from 26% to 21%

occupation %
employed 46
retired 31
self-employed / running own business 16
other 7

The proportion of people using our service who said they were employed fell during the year - from 53% to 46%. However, the proportion of retired people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year increased from 25% to 31% - reflecting the fact that 41% were aged 55 or over.

A small but growing number of consumers who brought complaints for us to resolve told us they were unemployed. Our outreach work includes activities specifically targeted at jobless people. During the year, for example, we ran a project to help raise awareness of the ombudsman across Jobcentre Plus centres in Essex.

almost a third of the people using our service were retired

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 across groups of consumers from a wide range of backgrounds.

access and inclusion

Treating everyone we deal with fairly and equally is central to the work we do. This is why it is so important that people can find us - and use our services when they need us.

It is also why we do everything we can to make sure that background or ability should not act as a barrier to someone having their complaint considered fairly and impartially.

Similarly, it is important that the people who work for us should reflect the diversity of 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 could:

  • Prevent any potential customer from accessing our services; or
  • Disadvantage anyone already using our service.

Our strategy on diversity and equality - published on our website - is set and monitored by our board and executive team.

Operationally, our work in this area is coordinated and championed by our customer service taskforce, which brings together senior staff from all areas of the ombudsman service.

During the year our strategic and practical approach to diversity was independently assessed over an eight-week period - and we were awarded for the second year running "gold standard" accreditation as a "diversity assured" organisation.

We continue to work with a range of external partners specialising in this area. These include:

  • The Employers' Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI) - providing us with ongoing strategic and practical advice in the role of a "critical friend", and benchmarking us against a range of private and public sector organisations.
  • The National Centre for Diversity - who are helping us work towards their highest level of award for "Leaders in Diversity".
  • The Institute of Equality & Diversity Practitioners - who we have hosted joint events with on equality and inclusion in financial services.
  • Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, which works for equality for LGBT people - and provides us with advice, helps us with recruitment, and acknowledges us as a diversity champion.
  • A range of disability, mental health and well-being charities - including Samaritans, MIND, Macmillan Cancer Support, Kidney Research, Age UK, British Dyslexia Association, National Autistic Society, Action on Hearing Loss and Alzheimer's Society - who provide training and guidance for our employees on disability issues.
  • The British Standards Institute (BSI) - who showcased our partnership work with charities and vulnerable people as part of our early adoption of the voluntary standard BS 18477: inclusive service provision.

Our in-house customer service group - made up predominantly of casework staff across the ombudsman service - also helps keep us focused on the fact that each customer may have individual needs to be taken into account.

The customer service group has provided input on a number of equality analyses (formerly known as "impact assessments") that we carried out during the year. These covered areas including:

  • How we respond appropriately and sensitively to consumers who want to be recorded on our casehandling system as gender neutral.
  • Extending the opening hours of our consumer helpline - and the possible impact that changing shift patterns could have on our employees.
  • Proposals to use email as our primary way of corresponding with people - and the possible impact this could have on consumers, particularly those who are older or have accessibility needs. 

our omb|assadors

"Omb|assadors" are employees who are interested - outside work - in helping to raise awareness of the ombudsman in their own local communities.

During the year we continued to work with a range of charities and community organisations as part of our omb|assador activities.

As our ambassadors they help represent and promote the ombudsman locally where levels of awareness or usage of our service are lower. This includes community work with:

  • Younger people - where our omb|assadors work in schools, colleges and youth groups.
  • The gay and lesbian community - with our LGBT support group taking part in London Pride.
  • Older people - including taking part in events for senior members of the Asian community.
  • Disabled people - involving outreach and support for a number of disability charities.

Over the following pages we highlight key areas where, following research and analysis, we have prioritised specific outreach and awareness-raising activities during the year - or adjusted our casehandling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

disability

20% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year told us they had some form of disability (21% in the previous year) - most commonly mobility, circulatory and manual dexterity difficulties. The figure is higher than the percentage of disabled people in the UK (17%) estimated by the Government's Office for Disability Issues.

disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
mobility difficulties 22
heart and circulatory problems (for example, stroke) 21
arthritis and manual dexterity difficulties 19
organ and nervous system disorders and disease (for example, diabetes and MS) 10
respiratory and breathing difficulties (for example, asthma) 9
hearing impairment     7
mental health issues 6
sight impairment 4
other (including learning difficulties) 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 employees receive training to help promote their confidence in dealing sensitively and practically with customers' different needs. During the year this included training on:

  • Reading between the lines and picking up on things going on in consumers' lives that are troubling them - or putting them into vulnerable situations - such as ill health, bereavement, unemployment, mental health or domestic issues.
  • When and how to use our network of various support agencies to provide the extra help that consumers sometimes need.
  • Understanding some of the challenges that older people face in a world where modern technology and processes can seem alienating and frustrating to use.

... we train our people to deal sensitively and practically with customers' different needs

4,120 cases during the year - 0.8% of our total workload - involved our providing information for customers in an alternative format. This was an increase of almost five fold on the 876 cases in the previous year.

This increase included using large or bold print in 3,502 cases (585 in the previous year) and colour-tinted paper in 380 cases - to help meet people's specific needs.

The growth in demand for alternative formats reflects both the general increase in the volume of our casework, as well as our determined drive to promote as widely as possible our services for disabled people.

meeting customers' different communication needs %
using large or bold print 85
using colour-tinted paper 9
information on CD and cassette 2
Braille 1.5
British Sign Language 1
meeting different needs in other ways (including simplified text) 1.5

Our aim is to take a flexible approach in cases where a particular disability means we need to adapt our more usual means of communicating with customers. We have included some examples in this annual review.

To be able to better understand 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 - including Naidex shows, which promote independent living for people who have a disability.

We sponsored the positive role model award for disability at the National Diversity Awards. We attended the ceremony in Manchester in November 2012 to present the award to 17-year old Liam Mackin. At the age of 14, Liam, who has Alstrom Syndrome meaning he is deafblind, had two poetry books published in print, large print, Braille and audio - all sold at the same price - something that had never been done before.

We also take part in an initiative between financial businesses, industry bodies and the Alzheimer's Society to create a culture of dementia-friendly financial services - as part of the Prime Minister's challenge on dementia.

We continue to work in partnership with Able and Access - the disability lifestyle-magazines - to help raise the profile of the ombudsman service both as an employer and as a dispute-resolution service. And we featured in magazines including If only I'd known that a year ago, the guide to living with ill health, injury or disability, published by RADAR, the disability network.

consumers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds

12% of people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year said they had a non-white ethnic background (10.5% in the previous year).

As part of this figure, the proportion of Black/Black British consumers using our service rose slightly from 5.1% to 5.2% - and the proportion of Asian/Asian British consumers increased from 3.2% to 4.8%.

55% of the complaints referred to us by Black/Black British consumers related to payment protection insurance (PPI) - compared with 32% from Asian consumers.

Looking across all financial products, there is no significant difference in the outcome of cases referred to us by white and non-white consumers. And white and non-white consumers are equally likely to appeal their case to an ombudsman for a final decision.

the ethnic background of consumers who complained to us %
non-white
%
white
2013 12 88
2012 10.5 89.5
2011 12 88
2010 10.5 89.5
2009 9 91
2008 8 92

During the year we continued to work closely with influential Black women's magazines, Black Hair and Pride. This included producing a series of lifestyle features highlighting consumer rights - and awareness of the ombudsman - in the day-to-day context of planning for holidays, fashion, relationship advice and Christmas shopping.

We also continued our long-term partnership with ZEE, the Asian media network - as well as running advertising and advertorial in Desi-info, The Asian Today and Asian Woman magazine. Our adverts and "click throughs" on a range of popular UK Asian-lifestyle websites have been particularly successful.

the ethnic background of our our website users %
White 79.5
Asian/Asian British 7.5
Black/Black British 6
Chinese 1
other 6

Targeting information about the ombudsman service for the Asian community by using web-based material and online advertising reflects the findings of our online survey - which continues to show a slightly higher proportion of Asian consumers using our website than other ethnic groups. This is in line with research indicating higher levels of internet use among the Asian community more generally.

However, we also used more traditional ways of getting our message across directly to harder-to-reach communities, where awareness and understanding of our service is lower. During the year this included running targeted public information campaigns on:

  • Buses across the Midlands and Northern Ireland.
  • The Metrolink tram network in Greater Manchester.
  • Trains across the Scottish, Welsh and Central England rail networks.
  • Bus shelters in East and South East London.

We also took part in a range of multicultural consumer events - to meet people face to face and hear about their experiences of interacting with financial services - including:

  • Mela events in Leicester, London and Birmingham.
  • Black History Month celebrations.
  • Community events in our own neighbourhood in East London.

Unprompted awareness of the ombudsman service increased the most during the year among Asian consumers - with 14% now able to name us without any prompting, compared with 9% in the previous year. Unprompted awareness of our service among Black/Black British consumers has remained relatively stable at 14%.

During the year we handled 940 cases in a range of 20 Asian languages - an increase of 44% on the previous year. We also handled 45 cases in African languages and 202 cases in Middle Eastern languages.

faith and religion

We include an optional question in our survey about consumers' religious or faith beliefs. This survey is entirely voluntary - and is completed by consumers anonymously after their case has been settled.

This information - like all the other details we collect relating to the diversity of our customers - helps us monitor whether we are handling complaints and making decisions fairly and impartially.

Of the people who completed our customer survey, 4% said they would prefer not to answer the question about faith and religion.

faith or religion of the consumers who complained to us %
Buddhist 1
Christian 65
Hindu 2
Jewish 1
Muslim 2
Sikh 0.5
other religion 3.5
no religion 21
prefer not to say 4

These figures are very similar to those in previous years. And they are broadly in line with statistics from the 2011 UK census. However, we received:

  • More complaints from consumers who told us they were Christian (65% in our survey and 60% across the UK).
  • Fewer complaints from consumers who told us they were Muslim (2% in our survey and 4% across the UK).

Our monitoring of the outcome of cases over the year shows that the proportion of complaints we upheld in favour of consumers varies slightly between different religious groups. However, this clearly reflects the significantly different financial products complained about - and the different uphold rates for different products.

For example, Christian consumers were among the groups that complained the most about payment protection insurance (PPI) - which has one of the higher uphold rates as a product. This meant that in total these consumers had a higher proportion of their complaints upheld through out the year.

However, Jewish consumers complained the least about PPI (only 11% of their total complaints - compared with 34% of the complaints from Christian consumers). This was reflected in a slightly lower uphold rate in total for Jewish consumers.

The different patterns of financial products complained about by the various faith groups - resulting in slightly different proportions of uphold rates - may also reflect different religious attitudes to credit and interest.

younger consumers

The proportion of consumers aged under 35 who bring complaints to the ombudsman service is generally lower than the proportion of the UK adult population as a whole. We receive significantly fewer complaints from consumers under 25.

This largely reflects the fact that people under 25 generally have fewer financial products than older, more financially-established consumers. For example, data from the Family Resources Survey published in June 2012 by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that families with a head of household aged 25 or under held fewer than the average number of all types of financial products with the exception of basic bank accounts.

But many younger people have personal loans, credit cards and bank accounts - and take out insurance for loans, travel, mobile phones, cars and motorbikes. This is reflected in the complaints we do see from this age group - as shown in the table below.

Consumers under 25 were the only age group to complain to us more about their bank accounts than about any other financial products. While every other age group complained mostly about payment protection insurance (PPI) - with these complaints making up 42% of cases from people aged between 35 and 44 - only 16% of complaints referred by consumers under 25 involved PPI.

what consumers under 25 complained to us about %
bank accounts 36
payment protection insurance (PPI) 16
motor insurance 16
loans 13
consumer credit 12
other 7

In our consumer research, 6% of people under 25 said they had complained about a financial product or service (8% in the previous year) - compared with 16% of people between 25 and 34, and 22% of people between 45 and 54.

This may support the widely held view that it is the "formality" of making a complaint - and the time and effort involved in following the "official" procedure - that younger consumers find particularly off-putting.

It could also explain why younger consumers are significantly less likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view.

But it could also suggest that problems faced by younger people - who will be new to using many financial products - can be resolved more easily by financial businesses without escalating into formal complaints.

... three quarters of people between 25 and 34 recognised our name

As part of our consumer research over the year, 59% of people under 24 said they had not heard of the Financial Ombudsman Service. But awareness of our service among consumers aged between 25 and 34 was significantly higher - with 18% able to name us without any prompting.

As part of our outreach work we continue to focus on younger consumers - to help raise awareness of their right to complain and the role of the ombudsman.

Recognising that younger consumers access information differently from older people, we look at different ways of communicating with this age group - and we work with a range of specialist partners to help get our message across. This includes:

  • Featuring articles in youth publications and websites such as The Festival Guide, Gap Year Travel Guide, StudentTimes.org and StudentBeans.com.
  • Developing our presence across social media - but keeping our messages and interactions simple and low key, in line with advice from the young people we meet and consult with.
  • Supporting Trading Standards' Young Consumers of the Year competition - including the young consumers v parliamentarians money quiz in Westminster - and working with youth education charity, MyBnk.
  • Working with the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) on a series of initiatives, including a smartphone app, student finance tips on Twitter, podcasts for student radio, and meeting students face to face at "freshers' fairs".
  • Supporting a training and mentoring partnership between youth workshop, SE1 United and a video production company - resulting in a short film made by young people for young people on money skills and nipping financial problems in the bud.

older consumers

41% of all consumers who referred complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were aged 55 or over - and 31% were retired.

The proportion of consumers over 65 who referred complaints to us increased by 20% over the year - and people in this age group now account for almost a quarter of the people who use our service.

This increase largely reflects the growing number of older people who are now referring complaints to us about payment protection insurance (PPI). For example, in the financial year 2012/2013, 22% of the complaints we received from consumers aged over 65 related to PPI - compared to just 11% in 2010/2011.

... 20% more people aged over 65 referred complaints to us

Consumers over 65 are significantly more likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view.

However, this largely reflects the types of financial products involved - with older people more likely to have more complex products such as pensions and investments, where more money may be at stake.

what consumers over 65 complained to us about %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 22
loans 21
bank and savings accounts 16
investments and pensions 14
household/motor insurance 11
consumer credit 5
other 11

As part of our outreach work we continue to remind older and retired people about their right as consumers to use the ombudsman service if 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.

Awareness of the ombudsman service has been steadily rising among consumers aged over 65. 70% of this age group has some awareness of our service - compared with 85% of people aged 45 to 64.

... over half of consumers aged over 65 told us they didn't have internet access

Our research continues to show a significant divergence within the older age groups between consumers who are confident users of technology and those who cannot, or do not, use computers and the internet.

22% of consumers between 55 and 64 told us that they did not have internet access (24% in the previous year) - rising to 54% of consumers aged 65 or over (47% in the previous year). Fewer than 1% of people between 25 and 34 say they do not have internet access.

% of consumers over 65 who told us they had no internet access %
2013 54
2012 47
2011 64
2010 55
2009 61

To reflect the different ways in which older people like to get information, our range of communications with older people includes:

  • Taking part in face-to-face events - such as the Caravan & Motorhome Show, the Retirement Show and the 50+ Show.
  • Featuring on "silver surfer" websites.
  • Focusing targeted messages through specialist publications - such as Retirement Today, Mature Times and Choice, the lifestyle magazine for people over 50.

the diversity of our own workforce

Across our workforce as a whole, 45% are male and 55% female (51% and 49% respectively in the previous year). At the end of the year, women accounted for 50% of our non-executive board, 57% of our executive team and 48% of our panel of ombudsmen.

49% of people working at the ombudsman service at the end of the year were aged between 25 and 35 (42% in the previous year) - with 4% of our workforce older than 55 (6% in the previous year). The age of our employees ranged from 18 to 66 years old.

33% of our employees are from non-white backgrounds, 5% have a disability, and 3.5% have indicated as part of our equal opportunities monitoring that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

During the year we took part in the Sunday Times Best Companies survey that measures workplace engagement. Building on the "one to watch" status we achieved in the previous year, we improved significantly - climbing to a "two star" outstanding ranking. And in February 2013 we were confirmed as a "Top 100" best employer.

consumer awareness of the ombudsman 

levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service %
people who could name us, without any prompting 17
people who said they definitely knew of us, when they were told our name 41
people who said they may have heard of us, when they were told our name 15
people who didn't recognise our name or know who we were 27

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.

Tracking differences in levels of awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups and communities is very important as part of our commitment to:

  • Understanding why some people do not know about us or use our service.
  • Identifying where there could be barriers - which we could minimise or remove - preventing some people from bringing complaints to the ombudsman service.

Over the last few years, levels of awareness of the ombudsman have remained steady. This is despite feedback that consumers are increasingly turned off by anything involving the word "financial" - and bewildered by the confusing language and acronyms used in financial services. This is why we try very hard never to call ourselves "FOS" - which we know many people find confusing.

... consumers are increasingly turned off by anything involving the word financial

Around 17% of the adult population (the same as in the previous year) can actively name the financial ombudsman, without any prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses. This rises to 20% of people between 35 and 64 who can actively name us.

Including those consumers who say they know about us when they are prompted with our name, 73% of adults are aware of the ombudsman service.

awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups of consumers %
men 74
women 73
18 to 24 year olds 41
45 to 64 year olds 85
Asian consumers 55
Black/Black British consumers 65
White consumers 76
professionals and managers (AB consumers) 81
skilled and semi-skilled
(C1/C2) consumers
74
unskilled (DE) consumers 64
people in Wales 75
people in Northern Ireland 58
people in Scotland 72
people in England 74

This table shows varying levels of awareness across different groups of consumers. Those less likely to recognise our name or know about us are younger people, Asian consumers and people in Northern Ireland.

There is more information in this chapter about the targeted consumer initiatives we run to help raise levels of awareness of our service - where our research identifies specific groups of more vulnerable consumers, or those who appear less likely to know about, or to use, our service.

For example, we continue to prioritise our outreach work in Northern Ireland. This includes working closely with consumer groups and the media, advertising on buses, and taking part in the largest agricultural show in Belfast each year. While still lower than elsewhere across the UK, general awareness of the ombudsman in Northern Ireland increased during the year from 54% to 58%.

consumers who don't use our service

In our research during the year looking at consumers in general, 16% of people said they had had a problem with a financial product or service (18% in the previous year) - rising to 22% of people aged between 45 and 54.

68% of these people said they went on to make a formal complaint to the financial business involved (64% in the previous year). 70% of these people said they were satisfied with the business's response.

Among the 30% of people who said they were not satisfied with the business's response to their complaint:

  • 56% took no further action. This meant they did not refer their complaint to the ombudsman service (or to any other organisation, such as the regulators or the court).
  • 38% took further action by referring their complaint to the ombudsman.

Consumers aged under 25 were the least likely to take any further action - even if they remained unhappy with the business's response to their complaint.

Consumers aged over 65 were most likely to pursue their complaint further - with 60% saying they would take further action, including referring their dispute to us.

... consumers under 25 and over 65 were least likely to take any further action - even though they remained unhappy

We are very interested in people's reasons for not pursuing a dispute to the ombudsman service - if they are unhappy with the business's response to their complaint.

We want to understand whether barriers - real or perceived - may exist in accessing our service, and where we may need to target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities or adjust our casehandling procedures to address any access issues.

why consumers say they didn't pursue a complaint - even though they were dissatisfied with the business's response %
"I didn't think I would achieve anything" 36
"I found it too stressful" 19
"I found the financial business difficult to deal with" 11
"I didn't think it was worth my time" 11
"I had other more important priorities" 7
"It didn't seem worth it for the money involved" 5
other reasons 11

The majority of consumers who do not pursue complaints - either to the business in question or to the ombudsman service - say this is because they cannot see the point in complaining or find the experience too stressful.

During the year the proportion of people who said they did not pursue a complaint because they "didn't think it would achieve anything" increased from 30% to 36% - but the number who said it was because they found "the financial business difficult to deal with" halved from 21% to 11%.

attitude to complaining

People's attitude to complaining - and the way they feel about our service - is significantly related to demographic factors, such as their age, gender and socio-economic background.

We also recognise that there are factors that could affect people's approach and attitude to complaining that may not be defined by, or limited to, specific demographic groups. Research we have carried out shows how different personality types feel about complaining and how they respond to situations involving complaints.

This research shows that, broadly speaking, consumers identify themselves as one of three distinct groups (or "segments") when it comes to complaints.

how consumers feel about complaining % of consumers in general % of our website users % who initially contact our consumer helpline % who register a complaint with us "formally" % who pursue a complaint for an ombudsman decision
"Complaining is a hassle, so I'd want to work out if it was worth it. If the process was easy, or someone else would take it on, then I'd go for it." 22 20 15 16 14
"I generally don't like complaining. It can be quite stressful as it's my word against theirs." 22 33 24 33 34
"I'd complain and give them a deadline to sort it out. If it wasn't sorted out, I'd take it further. I believe you need to go to the top to get a problem solved." 56 47 61 51 52

These consumer "segments" appear to confirm a widely held view that consumers who pursue complaints are more likely to be self-confident and determined when asking questions and expressing dissatisfaction. The proportions of people in these various segments have not changed significantly during the year.

Having this insight into how consumers feel and behave in relation to complaints is important to us. It helps us check what our processes and procedures look and feel like from the perspective of different kinds of customer.

As part of this work, for example, we have added more video content to the "my story" section of our website, showing consumers from different backgrounds talking about what the word "ombudsman" means to them.

Research shows that seeing someone like me do it is one of the most effective ways of giving people the confidence to try something themselves.

This is particularly important in the context of complaining - which can be an uncomfortable experience. Some consumers have told us that this is why they chose to use a claims-management company - or not pursue their complaint at all.

... seeing someone like me do it is one of the most effective ways of giving people confidence

Of course, consumers can refer complaints to the ombudsman service only after they have already been through the complaints procedure of the business they are unhappy with. This means that attitudes and behaviour - on both sides - may already be entrenched before our own involvement starts.

trust

Our consumer research monitors the level of trust that people have in the ombudsman service. 71% of adults across the UK say they would trust the ombudsman service (70% in the previous year).

This compares with 76% of people who say they would trust their local Trading Standards and 80% 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 - at 48%.

17% of people who had heard about us - but had not used our service - said they would trust us completely (14% in the previous year). This compared with 27% of people who would trust Citizens Advice completely and 3% of people who would trust a financial services trade association completely.

But when people had directly experienced our service, their level of trust in us almost quadrupled - with 66% of consumers trusting us completely at that stage (63% in the previous year and 50% in the year before that).

... when people had experienced our service, their level of trust in us quadrupled

how consumers who had an enquiry handled by us rated our service % of consumers who agree % of consumers who disagree
it was easy to find out how to contact us 96 4
the enquiry was dealt with promptly 92 8
we showed an interest in the individual enquiry 93 7
we knew enough to be able to answer questions 87 13
we gave a clear explanation of what would happen next 93 7
we did what we said we would do 88 12
how consumers who had a complaint decided by us rated our service % of consumers who agree % of consumers who express no view % of consumers who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 75 11 14
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 67 9 24
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 56 14 30
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 51 14 35
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 67 8 25
we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends 72 7 21

During the year we carried out research to hear what consumers thought about our service. This included email surveys completed by 25,000 people who had phoned our consumer helpline and postal surveys sent to 10,000 people whose complaints we had decided.

Feedback from these surveys showed some improvements in the level of service we provided, with increases:

  • From 84% to 87% in the proportion of consumers who felt that the person they spoke to knew enough to answer their questions
  • From 90% to 93% in the proportion of people who said we showed an interest in their enquiry.

We did less well on how our customers whose complaints we had decided viewed our timeliness - with this rating slipping back from 58% to 51%.

We acknowledge that we have not been able to resolve cases this year as quickly as we would have liked. This is largely because of the surge of payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints - and the challenges of gearing-up our operations to deal with the unprecedented demand. There is more information about our timeliness earlier in this annual review.

These challenges make it very important that we manage our customers' expectations sensitively and realistically - and deliver the best service we can while people are waiting for their cases to be assessed.

This is why we have introduced other ways of measuring customer satisfaction during the year - to help us better understand what people feel and think while they are waiting for a decision to be made on their case, as well as how they rate the service after their case has been settled and closed.

This has included introducing an automated feedback option at the end of PPI-related phone calls - enabling consumers to give instant ratings on various aspects of the quality of our service while their case is being progressed. This allows us to intervene straightaway, if a consumer's feedback suggests something we could nip in the bud as early as possible.

how consumers waiting for their PPI complaint to be resolved
rated our service
% of consumers who agree % of consumers who express no view % of consumers who disagree
we have shown an interest in the complaint and are handling it professionally 83 7 10
we do what we said we would do 80 12 8
we have kept in touch and been clear about things 67 17 16
we have been clear about how long it will take 75 12 13
we have provided a satisfactory service so far 82 10 8

We also run monthly online surveys to help us keep in touch with what consumers think about our service. Any case-specific feedback that consumers give us in these surveys is reported direct to the individual casehandler who worked on the case in question - and to their manager.

... 72% of people said they would recommend us

During the year 72% of people whose complaints we handled said they would recommend us to family and friends. Having our service recommended by customers is important to us because our research shows that many consumers first heard about us from a friend, relative or colleague.

how many people think we are ... very quite not really not at all
... helpful and approachable 48 29 11.5 11.5
... independent and impartial 50 27 11 12
... authoritative and knowledgeable 52 26 10.5 11.5
... capable and efficient 48 23 14 15
... respected and influential 49 29 9 13

how the outcome of a complaint affected consumers' views of our service

In our postal surveys, of those consumers who said they felt they had "won" their complaint:

  • 90% gave us positive feedback on the level of service we provided.
  • 7% gave us negative feedback.
  • 3% expressed no view.

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

  • 48% gave us positive feedback.
  • 39% gave us negative feedback.
  • 13% expressed no view.

92% of consumers who felt they had "won" their complaint said they would recommend our service. However, 55% of those who felt they had "lost" their case also 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. Even so, many of those who did not get the outcome they had hoped for still expressed positive views across a range of aspects of our customer service.

While people who bring complaints would clearly like to have their cases upheld, the following comments from consumers indicate those aspects of customer service that also really matter to people.

  • "If it takes a long time to bring a complaint to a final conclusion that just adds to the stress of the situation."
  • "When you're feeling particularly frustrated and aggrieved about something, you want to know that the person dealing with your complaint isn't just going through the motions."
  • "I want to be able to talk to whoever it is who's investigating my case - so that I can understand exactly how they arrive at their decision."
  • "I worry that people's complaints and concerns will just get lost in the bureaucratic system where no one has any power over the big financial institutions."
  • "It's your word against the banks. The system will always back the big companies."
  • "Does the ombudsman really understand how much consumers are being dealt a rough deal by the banks and other financial companies?"

our website users

Each day during the year an average of 18,943 people logged onto our website. To find out more about our website users, we run an online survey each year. Key findings from this year's survey showed that:

  • 66% of people were first-time visitors and 34% had been on our website before.
  • 88% of users were consumers and 12% were using our website for business purposes.
  • 55% of users were male and 45% female.
  • 72% of users said they would definitely visit our website again and 23% said they would probably do so.

Knowing what kinds of people do and do not access our website is very important for us. It helps us make decisions on its design and content. It helps when we assess the most appropriate channels of communication to get our messages across effectively.

It also helps us consider the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of engaging with customers and delivering our service.

the information people looked for on our website %
information on how to complain 28
how to contact us 23
other details about us 14
frequently-asked questions 12
complaints data 9
publications for consumers 5
news updates 5
other information 4
the age are our website users % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
under 25 5 2
25-34 19 13
35-44 22.5 20
45-54 25 24
55-64 20 17
over 65 8.5 24

The proportions of people in each age group who used our website during the year remained broadly similar to previous years.

However, the number of people aged over 55 who used our website rose from 27% to 28.5% during the year - continuing a gradual increase we have seen in the last few years.

We know that a significant number of older people still do not or cannot use the internet. Our research shows that 22% of people between 55 and 64 who use our service do not have internet access - rising to 54% of consumers aged 65 or over.

Consumers over 65 are almost three times as likely to refer a complaint to us as they are to look at our website. On the other hand, people between 25 and 34 are significantly more likely to visit our website than refer a complaint to us.

where our website users came from % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
South East (including Greater London) 24 29.5
North West 16 12
Midlands 16 19
South West 10 9
North East 7 9
East Anglia 7 5.5
Wales 5.5 4
Scotland 4 9
Northern Ireland 2 2.5
outside the UK 8.5 0.5

The spread of people using our website across the UK is very similar to previous years.

Consumers in the South East, the Midlands, the North East and Scotland are less likely to use our website than they are to refer complaints to us.

On the other hand, more people in the North West, the South West, Wales and East Anglia use our website than actually complain to us.

Our website attracts a significant number of overseas visitors - including consumers around the world whose feedback shows that they are comparing our approach in the UK to resolving particular financial disputes with what happens about similar issues where they live.

how people found out about our website %
through an internet search engine 55
from a financial business 22
from a friend or colleague 11
through a link on another website 9
from a newspaper or magazine 3

The majority of people continue to say that they found our website through internet searches - mostly using Google. Other websites from which people are most frequently referred to ours continue to include bbc.co.uk, moneysavingexpert.com and thisismoney.co.uk.

the words people "google" to get to our website

| ombudsman | banking ombudsman | financial ombudsman | insurance ombudsman | PPI claim form | direct debit | payment protection | mis sold PPI | what is PPI | PPI ombudsman

We use "search engine optimisation" to try to make sure that links to our website are listed prominently in the results shown for relevant internet searches. This is increasingly challenging, with claims-management companies advertising aggressively and paying premium rates to have their details listed in key positions online.

the stage people are at with their complaint when they use our website %
only browsing at this stage 5
thinking about making a complaint to a financial business 31
waiting for a financial business to reach a decision on their complaint 12
thinking about referring an unresolved dispute to the ombudsman service 30
waiting for the ombudsman service to make a decision on their complaint 22

The proportions of people using our website at the various stages of the complaints process - from initially thinking about making a complaint and finding out more, to waiting for a complaint to be decided either by a financial business or the ombudsman service - remained broadly similar to previous years.