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annual review 2013/2014

1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014

who complained to us

understanding more about consumers

We find out a lot about an individual consumer’s circumstances when they refer a complaint to us. But we also need to find out on a more general level how consumers feel and behave – particularly around the financial services they’re using and what they do when things go wrong. As in previous years, the research we carried out in 2013/2014 helps us to:

  • Identify and respond to what people want and expect from us.
  • Make our service easier to use – for everyone.
  • Make sure we are meeting particular accessibility needs.
  • Meet our commitment to equality and inclusion.
  • Target our outreach and awareness-raising activities.

the age of consumers who complained to us

  • 1% were under 25
  • 13% were 25 to 34
  • 24% were 35 to 44
  • 27% were 45 to 54
  • 28% were 55 to 65
  • 17% were over 65

We usually find that the proportion of consumers in each age group stays largely the same each year – irrespective of how many complaints we see in total.

In last year’s annual review we said that consumers aged over 65 made up nearly one in four of people who used us. This year, we saw a fall in people in this age group. This can largely be explained by the increase in the number of payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints we resolved – in which proportionally fewer over-65s were involved. PPI aside, however, the over-65s remain our largest consumer age group – referring more than a quarter of the cases we resolved during the year.

The consistently high number of older consumers who bring us complaints might be a result of our outreach work with this demographic over previous years. We talk about how this work continued in 2013/2014 elsewhere in this chapter. It is also likely that, as life expectancy has increased, people are engaging with financial services – and generally being active consumers – for longer.

Seven out of ten consumers who used our service during the year were aged between 35 and 65. This isn’t surprising – given the wide range of life events that people can experience between these ages and the wide range of financial products that can go along with them. Our research confirms that people in this age group have a relatively higher awareness of consumer rights – including their right to refer a complaint to us. 

Once again, PPI is the most complained-about financial product among consumers of all ages (except the under-25s, whose most complained-about product was bank accounts). However, the proportion of cases from each age group that involved PPI varies considerably – from just under half of complaints from the over-65s to more than three quarters from 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 
33%
PPI
27%
car/motor insurance
13%
27%
25 to 34 PPI
71%
loans
11%
bank accounts
9%
9%
35 to 44 PPI
76%
loans
10%
bank accounts
5%
9%
45 to 54 PPI
74%
loans
9%
investments and pensions
4%
13%
55 to 64 PPI
71%
investments and pensions
9%
loans
6%
14%
over 65 PPI
48%
bank accounts
13%
investments and pensions
12%
27%

To better understand how people first get in touch with us, we carry out a range of research. This includes monitoring callers to our consumer helpline – so we can build a picture of which types of consumers are more and less likely to pursue a formal complaint. Once again we found that age makes no difference here – and that consumers of all ages are just as likely to refer a complaint to us after talking it through with our consumer helpline.

Our research shows that we are slightly less likely to find in the consumer’s favour if they are either under 35 or over 65. This is because a relatively lower proportion of PPI complaints – which have a higher “uphold rate” – are referred to us by people in these age groups. 

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

  • 1% were under 25
  • 10% were 25 to 34
  • 18% were 35 to 44
  • 24% were 45 to 54
  • 19% were 55 to 65
  • 28% were over 65

In general, the younger someone is, the more likely they are to accept an informal resolution to their complaint early on – and the less likely they are to appeal their case and ask for an ombudsman’s decision. Over-65s are the people most likely to take their case to this final stage. 

A higher level of confidence in dealing with “official” procedures – which generally comes with experience – could be a factor in this. However, the trend also reflects changes in the types of financial services people use as they get older.

Compared with younger people, older people generally have more investment and pension products. 5% of complaints brought to us by the over-65s this year involved investments and pensions, against fewer than 1% of complaints brought by the under-35s. As these products can involve large amounts of money – and someone’s future plans may depend on them – it’s understandable that a consumer might want to take things as far as they can if something goes wrong.

Younger people, on the other hand, complained about their current accounts more than any other group. There is more information later in this chapter about how we raise younger people’s awareness of the ombudsman service – as well as their confidence in dealing with their finances.

the gender of consumers who complained to us

  • female: 41%
  • male: 59%

Over the last few years the proportion of women who complained to the ombudsman has been fairly constant. But this year we saw an 8% increase in the proportion of women using our service. This largely reflects the fact that slightly more women than men brought us complaints about PPI.

On the whole, however, we are still seeing more men than women refer complaints to the ombudsman. Although we can’t be sure exactly why this is, it might have something to do with the fact that a lot of complaints involve accounts or policies that are in joint names – where a male partner’s name conventionally appears first.

As part of our research we monitor whether men and women tend to complain about different products. Our research shows that although women complained slightly more than men about PPI, the three products that women and men alike complained about the most were:

  • PPI (70% of women’s complaints and 67% of men’s).
  • Credit cards (4% of women’s complaints and 5% of men’s).
  • Current accounts (4% of women’s and men’s complaints).

We also asked men and women who hadn’t brought us a complaint about their attitudes to complaining – to see whether there were any differences between genders. Our research showed that women were 20% less likely than men to say they’d had a problem with a financial product. But although women were less likely to identify a problem in the first place, if they decided something was wrong they would be more likely to do something about it.

Our research also showed that women were 7% less likely than men to be satisfied with the business’s response to a complaint. And 65% of women said they would take their complaint further if they were unhappy with the business’s response – compared with 57% of men.

We also monitor the outcomes of complaints by gender. Our research shows that there’s no difference in our “uphold rate” between cases brought by men and cases brought by women.

consumers' complaints - by region and nation

region where consumers who complain to us live %
South East (including Greater London) 28
Midlands 20
North West 12
North East 10
Scotland 9
South West 9
East Anglia 5
Wales 5
Northern Ireland 2

We record where the consumers who bring complaints to us live – so we can monitor levels of usage and awareness of the ombudsman across the UK. In 2013/2014 our customers were spread across the UK in line with the relative populations of the different nations and regions. We’ve also found this to be the case in previous years.  

Although we didn’t find any significant regional or national trends in the products that people complained about, there were some variations. For example:

  • Complaints about PPI made up 74% of complaints from the North East of England compared with 63% from the South East.
  • Current accounts made up 6% of complaints from the South East and 3% of complaints from the North East.

where people phoned us from the most

  1. Widnes
  2. Bristol
  3. Bolton
  4. Manchester
  5. Gillingham
  6. Sale
  7. Birmingham
  8. Chester
  9. Leeds
  10. Salford
  11. Swansea
  12. Stanmore
  13. Hull
  14. Glasgow
  15. Macclesfield
  16. Bury
  17. Northampton
  18. Burton-on-Trent
  19. Nottingham
  20. Liverpool

We found more of our calls came from densely-populated, urban areas – and fewer came from the more remote parts of Wales and Scotland. However, we know that consumers in relatively isolated areas can have quite specific needs in terms of financial services – and we continue to visit smaller, rural communities of the UK (see other work we have done later in this annual review).

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 35
on the internet 19
in the media (press and broadcast) 18
from a friend, relative or colleague 14
from a consumer-advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 4
from a claims-management company 3
other 7

This year we saw an increase of 38% in the proportion of people who brought us a complaint who said they found out about us through word-of-mouth – from a friend, relative or colleague.  

And for the second year running there was a slight increase in the proportion of people who said that they’d heard about us from the financial business they complained to. This probably reflects the fact that under the complaints-handling rules set by the regulator, businesses covered by the ombudsman service have to mention us when a customer has a complaint that can’t be resolved within eight weeks. 

Men are more likely than women to say they found out about us from the financial business, whereas women are more likely to say they found out about us from a friend, relative or colleague.

Around a third of people from professional and managerial (AB) backgrounds and skilled and semi-skilled people (C1/C2) told us they found out about us from the business they’d complained to. Last year, we pointed out that for consumers from unskilled (DE) backgrounds the figure was much lower – at 22%. This year, however, our research suggests that this gap has closed – with 32% of people from unskilled backgrounds saying they’d heard about us from the business.

Our research continues to show that younger people rely far less on the press to find out about us. Compared with people over 55, younger people are twice as likely to hear about us from friends, colleagues and family.

The under-25s are the age group most likely to have found out about us online.

There is more information later in this chapter about general levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman 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 Daily Mirror 9
The Times / The Sunday Times 8
The Telegraph / The Sunday Telegraph 5
The Express 5
The Guardian / Observer 4
Financial Times 3
The Independent / The Independent on Sunday 2
Star 2
other 6

The most popular newspapers among consumers who use us are still the free and regional papers – particularly Metro, which is available in 15 urban areas across the UK.

Given the wide distribution and diversity of the readership of the free and regional papers – and generally declining readership of paid-for newspapers – these are particularly effective channels for reaching our customers. However, we continue to find that younger consumers are far less likely than older consumers to have heard about us from a newspaper.

media coverage of the ombudsman

media coverage of the ombudsman %
BBC 8
Daily Mail / The Mail on Sunday 6
The Times / The Sunday Times  5
Money Marketing 4
The Guardian / Observer 4
The Independent / The Independent on Sunday 3
Mortgage Strategy 2
The Telegraph / The Sunday Telegraph 2
thisismoney.co.uk 2
The Scotsman 1
other coverage 63

Over the last year we’ve featured in around 6,000 stories – in both the national and the local media. We took part in interviews and phone-ins on national radio stations, and we gave interviews to the national broadcast media – including BBC Breakfast and Sky News. We’ve also featured in more consumer programmes during the year – including the BBC’s Rip Off Britain and Watchdog.

As we explained earlier in this chapter, the regional media is a particularly effective channel for reaching our customers. So we took part in interviews on over 100 local radio stations.

We continued to get significant online coverage. Over 1,000 organisations now link directly from their website to ours – including voluntary and community groups, businesses and business networks, government and public sector bodies, as well as the online versions of traditional newspapers, magazines and trade publications.

We have also been increasing our profile on social media sites including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. During the year our Twitter activities included:

  • A partnership with the National Association of Student Money Advisers to tweet student money tips.
  • Having direct chats with consumers – and opening up our conversations for other people to join in.
  • Tweeting live from our consumer helpline and our technical advice desk to show real-time trends.

We posted stories on LinkedIn that people working in the financial services sector might find interesting. We also posted stories, video content and graphics on Facebook.

During the year, the number of people who had seen content associated with our Facebook page – by “liking” us, clicking onto our page or seeing it on a friend’s timeline – had almost doubled.

Recent research suggests that although young adults are the heaviest users of social media, use is growing the fastest among people aged 50 and over. Engaging all kinds of people over social media is something we plan to do a lot more of over the coming year.

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
2014 30% 59% 11%
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 a consumer’s socio-economic background influences how likely they are to complain to a financial business. The changes we saw during the year - a higher proportion of complaints from people with skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled backgrounds – partly reflect the fact that we see more complaints about PPI from these consumers.

We also monitor the outcomes of complaints from people with different socio-economic backgrounds. During the year – for complaints about all financial products – we upheld:

  • 51% of complaints from AB consumers – down from 54% last year.
  • 59% of complaints from C1/C2 consumersup from 55% last year.
  • 61% of complaints from DE consumers – up from 51% last year.

Again, these differences are likely to reflect the fact that we resolved so many PPI complaints during the year – which a higher proportion of consumers with skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled backgrounds brought to us.

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) 60 69 72
loans 12 10 7
bank accounts 9 8 8
investments and pensions 5 3 5
motor and household insurance 5 4 2
other 9 6 6

During the year we saw more consistency in the products that people from different socio-economic groups complain about. The three most complained-about products – PPI, loans and bank accounts – were the same across all groups.

the occupational background of consumers who complained to us %
administrative and secretarial 23
skilled trades (for example, electricians, plumbers, mechanics) 21
managers and officials 17
professionals 12
personal services (for example, care assistants, dental nurses) 8
sales and customer service 8
“elementary” occupations (for example, hotel and bar staff, farm workers, postal workers) 7
process and plant work (for example, machinery operatives, assembly-line workers) 4

The occupational backgrounds of consumers using our service continued to shift during the year. The proportion of professionals fell by 29%, and the number of managers and officials also fell slightly.

The proportion of people working in process and plant jobs rose from 1% to 4% – and, for the first time ever, the group that complained to us the most were people working in administrative and secretarial jobs.

occupation %
employed 55
retired 26
self-employed / running own business 13
other 6

The proportion of employed people using our service went up by 20% during the year. The proportion of retired people fell from 31% to 26%, which is in line with the 7% decrease in complaints from people aged 65 or over. 

Although the number of people who told us they are unemployed is still relatively small, we continue to take the needs of jobless people into account in our outreach work.

We’ve worked closely with a number of agencies that provide people with return-to-work support. We’ve also visited areas where we have heard that significant redundancies have taken place – and, working in partnership with local community advisers, talked to people about any problems they might be having with loan or credit agreements. There are more details later in this chapter about our awareness-raising and accessibility work.

We monitor the outcome of the complaints we resolve to make sure we are treating people fairly and equally. The results continue to show that our uphold rate is broadly the same across groups of consumers from different backgrounds.

access and inclusion

When we were set up by parliament, the intention was to make sure that every consumer in the UK has access to a free ombudsman service. We continually review how we work to make sure no aspect of anyone’s personal circumstances prevents them from being able to reach us. And when they do reach us, we want to be certain that there are no barriers to their complaint being decided fairly and impartially.

We also think it’s important that the people who work for us reflect the diversity of our customers and stakeholders. There’s more information on the diversity of our workforce later in this chapter.

Our equality and diversity strategy is set and monitored by our board and executive team – and we publish it on our website.

During the year we received four independently-assessed awards in recognition of our positive approach to diversity. We are now:

  • Accredited Leaders in Diversity.
  • Investors in Diversity, stage one and two.
  • For the third year running, a gold standard “diversity assured” organisation. 

Our continued success in this area relies on our working closely with a range of external partners. These include:

  • The Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI) – who offer us advice and benchmark us against a range of private and public sector organisations.
  • The Equilibrium Network – who assessed our approach to diversity as gold standard.
  • The National Centre for Diversity – who accredited us as Leaders in Diversity.
  • Stonewall, the charity for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality – who help us with recruitment and acknowledge us as a diversity champion.
  • A range of disability, mental health and wellbeing charities – including Mencap, CLASP, Samaritans, MIND, Macmillan Cancer Support, Age UK, British Dyslexia Association, National Autistic Society, Action on Hearing Loss, British Heart Foundation, Stroke Association, Parkinson’s UK and Alzheimer’s Society – who provide training and guidance for our employees on disability issues.
  • The National Diversity Awards – whose Positive Role Model for Age award we sponsored and presented this year.
  • The British Standards Institute (BSI) – who continue to showcase our partnerships with charities and vulnerable people as part of our early adoption of the voluntary standard BS 18477: inclusive service provision.

People from across our organisation meet regularly as our customer service group. The group continually reviews our procedures to make sure we are as easy as possible for our customers to use. Their work this year included running refresher training for colleagues across our casework areas on dealing with customers’ different communication needs.

our omb|assadors

Our omb|assadors are employees who volunteer to help raise awareness of the ombudsman in their own communities – outside work. This helps us reach local groups who are less likely to know about and use our service. In 2013/2014 our omb|assadors:

  • Ran a workshop for residents of a life-skills centre for single homeless people.
  • Hosted an afternoon tea party and quiz at a local pensioners’ club.
  • Explained our role to advice workers at a charity providing frontline community and social care.

In the following section, we look at the range of different needs our customers tell us they have – and what we do to meet them.

disability

Of the consumers whose complaints we resolved during the year, 18% told us they had some form of disability. This remains broadly in line with the government’s most recent figures. Most frequently, consumers described their disabilities as relating to mobility, circulation and manual dexterity. And significantly more people than last year said they had a hearing impairment or learning difficulties.

disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
mobility difficulties 20
arthritis and manual dexterity difficulties 18
hearing impairment 14
heart and circulatory problems (for example, stroke) 13
mental health issues 8
organ and nervous system disorders and disease (for example, diabetes and MS) 7
respiratory and breathing difficulties (for example, asthma) 6
sight impairment 4 other (including learning difficulties) 10

We ask all consumers when they first contact us if they have any particular needs – and would like us to adapt the way we communicate with them. During 2013/2014 we provided information in a different format in 3,181 cases.

This included using large or bold print in 2,497 cases and colour-tinted paper in 464 cases. And for the first time this year, our new British Sign Language interpreter service allowed customers with hearing difficulties to talk to us in real time.

meeting customers' different communication needs %
using large or bold print 78.5
using colour-tinted paper 14.5
information on CD and cassette 2
Braille 1.5
British Sign Language 1
meeting different needs in other ways (including simplified text) 2.5

We train our employees to deal with our customers’ different needs with confidence, sensitivity and pragmatism. This includes being perceptive to situations people are experiencing outside their complaint – for example, poor physical or mental health, bereavement or unemployment.

Where it’s appropriate we use our strong and growing network of support organisations to make sure people get the help they need. These include a range of disability, mental health and wellbeing charities.

In early 2014 the Alzheimer’s Society helped 80 of our staff become “Dementia Friends”. This was in recognition of their understanding of the condition – and the ways they can support people who live with dementia. We were among several independent organisations supporting the Charter for Dementia-Friendly Financial Services – an agreement between financial businesses and the Alzheimer’s Society – which was launched in October 2013.

If a customer tells us they have a particular need or disability we do everything we can to adapt the way we deal with their case – to make our process as easy as possible for them. In the chapter called "the complaints we received" we give some examples of what we did when there was no ready-made solution.

During the year we met people with disabilities – and the carers who support them – at venues ranging from the national Naidex exhibition at the NEC to, more locally, Brighton’s Fed centre for independent living. And to gain more insight into “hidden” disabilities that our customers might have – such as learning difficulties and mental health issues – we built new relationships with organisations including Mencap and CLASP, the suicide prevention charity.  

During the year, we continued to work with disability lifestyle magazines Able and Access – as well as starting to work with Pos'ability. Our own staff talked to these publications about their own different needs – helping to raise our profile as both an accessible service and an inclusive employer.

consumers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds

Of the consumers who brought complaints to us during the year, 11% told us they came from a non-white ethnic background (a similar proportion to the previous year).

There was some variation in the types of products these consumers complained about. For example, 80% of Black/Black British consumers’ cases related to PPI, compared with 47% of complaints from Asian consumers.

White and non-white consumers were equally likely to have their complaints upheld – and also equally likely to ask for an ombudsman’s final decision.

the ethnic background of consumers who complained to us %
non-white
%
white
2014 11 89
2013 12 88
2012 10.5 89.5
2011 12 88
2010 10.5 89.5
2009 9 91
2008 8 92

Our targeted media work during the year included partnerships with women’s magazines, Black Hair and Pride. Some of our own staff – who themselves read these magazines – featured in articles on shopping, holidays and relationships. This helped to highlight the relevance of our service in everyday life – and the importance of consumer rights more generally. Our research shows that an increasing number of Black/Black British consumers can name our service without any prompting – 17% this year, compared with 14% last year.

We continued to share practical financial management tips with readers of The Asian Today. And we also talked to consumers face-to-face at multicultural community events – including melas (gatherings) in Birmingham, Leicester and London.

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

During the year the biggest percentage rise in requests for our translation service was for Middle Eastern languages. We used six different Middle Eastern languages across 298 cases – nearly half as many again as in 2012/2013.

European languages aside, we handled 1,001 cases in a range of 19 Asian languages (6% more than last year), and 47 cases in three African languages. There is more information in the chapter called “the complaints we received” on the work we have done with consumers whose first language isn’t English.

faith and religion

Once a consumer’s complaint has been resolved, we ask them to give us some more information about themselves. The survey we send people includes an optional question about their beliefs. The information we gather from this question helps us make sure we’re both handling complaints and making decisions impartially.

faith or religion of the consumers who complained to us %
Buddhist 1
Christian 69
Hindu 1
Jewish 0.5
Muslim 2
Sikh 0.5
other religion 4
no religion 19
prefer not to say 3

These figures are very similar to those we’ve seen in previous years. Although they are broadly in line with statistics from the 2011 UK census, we did find one or two slight variations, including: 

  • More complaints from consumers who told us they were Christian (69% 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).

Looking at the outcome of the complaints we settled this year, we found slight variations between faith groups. For example, we upheld proportionally more complaints involving Christian consumers than Hindu consumers.

This reflects differences in the products that different groups complained about. In particular, Christians made up a large proportion of the consumers who complained to us about mis-sold PPI. And because we uphold a relatively high number of PPI cases, the overall uphold rate for Christian consumers was relatively higher.

It is also possible that different religious attitudes towards credit and interest affect the types of complaints consumers refer to us – and therefore the uphold rates between different faith groups.

younger consumers

The under-35s are proportionally under-represented among people who use the ombudsman. The difference is particularly pronounced for the under-25s.

This largely reflects the fact that, in general, people under 25 have fewer financial products than older, more financially-established consumers. That said, it’s evident from the complaints we receive from younger people that they are using bank accounts, credit cards, loans and insurance products.

Consumers under 25 were the only age group to complain to us more about their bank accounts than about any other financial product. And they were the only age group where PPI wasn’t the most complained-about product.

what consumers under 25 complained to us about %
bank accounts 33
payment protection insurance (PPI) 27
car/motor insurance 13
loans 11
consumer credit 10
other 6

In our research among consumers generally – rather than those who had actually used our service – we found that 11% of people under 25 said they’d had a problem with a financial product or service. Although this is almost double the previous year’s figure, it is still significantly less than the proportion of consumers aged 25-35 (18%) and 45-54 (26%).

It could be that younger people have fewer financial products than older people – and so haven’t yet encountered a problem.

But there could be more complex reasons. For example, younger consumers – who have grown up with technology that encourages immediate, informal interactions – might prefer to avoid processes they see as “formal”, like making a complaint. This is why we’re working hard to make ourselves accessible in different ways.

Or it could be that younger consumers are interacting with financial businesses differently – and that the businesses involved are generally resolving queries before they become problems. For example, many financial businesses now have a dedicated customer service Twitter account.

Our research this year found that 57% of people under 25 hadn’t heard of the ombudsman service. However, awareness among the next age group was far higher. One in five consumers aged between 25 and 34 could name us without any prompting.

During the year we continued to try to raise awareness of our service among younger consumers. This included:

  • Partnering with publications and websites aimed at younger people – for example, offering tips for money management in The Festival Guide, Gap Year Travel Guide, and on StudentTimes.org and StudentBeans.com.
  • Establishing our presence across a range of social media – and using these to raise awareness of consumer rights, money matters and our role.
  • Promoting our service on posters in Glasgow pubs and clubs.
  • Working with the National Association of Student Money Advisers on a range of activities – for example, offering money tips on Twitter during National Student Money Week.
  • Meeting students at freshers’ fairs and providing students’ unions with our leaflets and posters.
  • Supporting Trading Standards’ Young Consumers of the Year competition and the young consumers-v-parliamentarians money quiz.
  • Promoting the film we made last year with youth workshop SE1 United – which continued to be shown at cinemas across the UK.  
  • For the second year, sponsoring and presenting a National Diversity Award. The Positive Role Model for Age, Aaron Anderson, overcame childhood trauma and addiction to set up a local business community and help 180 young people gain new qualifications.

older people

During the year we saw a smaller proportion of complaints from people aged 55 or over (35% compared with 41% in the previous year). We also saw a smaller proportion of complaints from retired people (26% compared with 31%).

The proportion of consumers over 65 who referred complaints to us was also lower this year. However, people in this age group still account for 17% of the people who use our service.

Consumers over 65 are much more likely to ask for an ombudsman’s final decision if they’re unhappy with our initial view on their complaint. This perhaps reflects the types of products involved in these consumers’ complaints – with older people more likely to have more complex products such as pensions and investments, where more money might be at stake.

what consumers over 65 complained to us about %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 48
loans 13
bank and savings accounts 12
investments and pensions 9
household/motor insurance 7
consumer credit 3
other 8

As part of our outreach work we regularly talk face-to-face with older consumers and to the organisations that represent their interests. This gives us a better understanding of the issues that older people might face when they’re using financial services. Based on some of the things we’d been hearing, we produced a special issue of ombudsman news in August 2013 in partnership with Age UK and Which?

Awareness of the ombudsman service has been steadily rising among consumers over 65. Our research this year showed that over three quarters of people in this age group have some awareness of our service – up from 70% last year – although this is still lower than awareness among people aged 45 to 64.

We mentioned in last year’s annual review that our research showed a divergence among older people – between those who use technology and those who don’t.

We saw similar results in our research this year, although the percentage of older people who said they didn’t have access to the internet went down slightly. 18% of consumers aged between 55 and 64 told us that they didn’t have internet access – rising to 49% among the over-65s. In contrast, just 3% of people between 25 and 34 said they didn’t have internet access.

% of consumers over 65 who told us they had no internet access %
2014 49
2013 54
2012 47
2011 64
2010 55

the diversity of our own workforce

The diversity of our workforce stayed broadly the same as we reported last year.

Across our workforce, 45% are male and 55% female. At the end of the year, women accounted for 50% of our non-executive board, 57% of our executive team and 47% of our panel of ombudsmen.

51% of people working at the ombudsman service at the end of the year were aged between 25 and 35 – with 4% of our workforce older than 55. The age of our employees ranged from 17 to 70 years old.

37% of our employees are from non-white backgrounds, 2% have a disability, and 4% have indicated as part of our equal opportunities monitoring that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

In February 2014 the Sunday Times Best Companies survey confirmed once again that we are a “Top 100” organisation to work for. Research suggests that the most motivated and enthusiastic staff provide the best customer service – and taking part in the survey helps us measure how we’re doing in this area.

consumer awareness of the ombudsman 

levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service %
people who could name us, without any prompting 20
people who said they definitely knew of us, when they were told our name 44
people who said they may have heard of us, when they were told our name 13
people who didn't recognise our name or know who we were 23

Gathering insight into people’s attitudes towards their consumer rights – and linked to that, their understanding of “the ombudsman” – is essential to planning our awareness-raising work. We need to know:

  • Who uses us and why.
  • Why people might not be using us.
  • What we can do to make it easier for people to come to us if they need to.

This time last year, 17% people could name us “unprompted” – that is, they named “the Financial Ombudsman” when asked where they would go with an unresolved complaint about a financial business. Our latest results indicate that this has increased to one in five people – rising to one in four when looking at consumers aged between 35 and 64.

In addition, a further 57% of people said they knew about us when they were prompted with our name. This means that, in total, 77% of adults were aware of the ombudsman (an increase from 73% in the previous year).

We try never to call ourselves “FOS” – which we know many people find confusing. Instead, we have been focusing on making ourselves more pronounceable – “om-buds-man” – and more approachable.

awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups of consumers %
men 78
women 77
18 to 24 year olds 43
45 to 64 year olds 88
Asian consumers 57
Black/Black British consumers 58
White consumers 80
professionals and managers (AB consumers) 84
skilled and semi-skilled
(C1/C2) consumers
78
unskilled (DE) consumers 69
people in Wales 81
people in Northern Ireland 71
people in Scotland 78
people in England 77

consumers who don't use our service

It’s also important that we try to understand how consumers feel about making complaints. This helps us better understand people’s choices about what to do – and how far to take things – when a problem arises.

This year 18% of people told us they’d had a problem with a financial product or service – compared with 16% in the previous year. 

Of these people, nearly two thirds (63%) said they went on to make a formal complaint to the business involved (68% in the previous year). And 72% of the people who made a complaint said they were satisfied with the business’s response.

Looking at the 28% of people who weren’t satisfied, 39% took no further action – and didn’t follow up their complaint with us or with another organisation. This compares with 56% of consumers in the previous year.

We asked the people who had chosen to give up their complaint why they had made this decision.  

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" 35
"I found it too stressful" 19
"I found the financial business difficult to deal with" 15
"I didn't think it was worth my time" 12
"I had other more important priorities" 8
"It didn't seem worth it for the money involved" 5
other reasons 6

The majority of consumers who didn’t pursue complaints – either with the business in question or with the ombudsman service – said that they couldn’t see the point in complaining, or that they would find complaining too stressful.

During the year the proportion of people who said they didn’t pursue a complaint because they “found the financial business difficult to deal with” increased from 11% to 15%.

trust

It’s vital to our work that people trust us to resolve complaints fairly and impartially. However, we know from some of the conversations we have that not everyone understands our role. To change this, we first need to understand people’s expectations of “the ombudsman” – and any misconceptions that might exist.

For example, over the past year, we met thousands of consumers face-to-face – at events ranging from disability exhibitions to student advice fairs. Some people thought we were the regulator, asking “how can you let them get away with it?” In the eyes of these consumers, we are part of an industry they mistrust – and they might not use our service as a result.

On the other hand, some people thought we were a consumer champion, saying “we need someone like you to stand up for us”. This is something it is equally important we clarify. It is likely, for example, that someone who thinks we are “on their side” – but whose complaint we don’t uphold – will be more disappointed with our service than someone whose complaint we didn’t uphold, but who knew from the start that we would be impartial.

Despite these tensions, 70% of adults across the UK say they would trust us. This compares with 75% of people who say they would trust their local Trading Standards, and 81% of people who say they would trust Citizens Advice – both of which are consumer bodies.

However, levels of consumer trust in financial services trade associations remain significantly lower at 47%.

Among people who knew who we were but hadn’t actually used us, 15% would have total trust in us. This compares with 29% who would trust Citizens Advice completely and 3% who would trust a financial services trade association completely. 

However, 65% of the people who had actually used our service had total trust in us – more than four times the level of trust among people who hadn’t used us.

how consumers who had an enquiry handled by us rated our service % who agree % of our disagree
it was easy to find out how to contact us 95 5
the enquiry was dealt with promptly 92 8
we showed an interest in the individual enquiry 91 9
we knew enough to be able to answer questions 85 15
we gave a clear explanation of what would happen next 92 8
we did what we said we would do 87 13
how consumers who had a complaint decided by us rated our service % who agree % who express no view % who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 80 10 10
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 78 8 14
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 67 13 20
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 61 15 24
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 76 8 16
we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends 80 7 13

During the year we asked consumers what they thought about our service. This included email surveys completed by 27,000 people who had phoned our consumer helpline, and postal surveys sent to 11,000 people whose complaints we had looked into.

We were pleased that people rated certain aspects of our service so highly – like our staff’s knowledge and genuine interest in their enquiry. People also said they were more satisfied with our timeliness than in previous years. This may be because of the work we’ve done to explain to people with PPI complaints why they’re having to wait longer than we’d like.

But we know that resolving complaints as quickly as people want is the area where we perform least well – largely because of the surge of PPI complaints and the challenges of gearing up our operations to deal with unprecedented demand. There is more information about our timeliness in the chapter called “how we dealt with the complaints”.

During the year 80% of people whose complaints we handled said they would recommend us to family and friends – up from 72% last year. 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 49 28 11 12
... authoritative and knowledgeable 51 27 10.5 11.5
... capable and efficient 47 24 15 14
... respected and influential 49 28 10 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’d “won” their complaint:

  • 95% gave us positive feedback on the level of service we provided – up from 90% last year.
  • 4% gave us negative feedback – down from 7% last year.
  • 1% expressed no view.

In contrast, of those consumers who said they felt they’d “lost” their complaint:

  • 58% gave us positive feedback – up from 48% last year.
  • 28% gave us negative feedback – down from 39% last year.
  • 14% expressed no view.

96% of consumers who felt they had “won” their complaint said they would recommend our service, whereas 65% of people who felt they had “lost” their case said they would recommend us.

This shows how people’s perception of our service tends to be influenced by how they see the outcome of their own complaint. Even so, many of those people who didn’t get the outcome they had hoped for still expressed some positive views about their experience of bringing a complaint to us. 

Although people would clearly like to have their cases upheld, the following comments from consumers indicate the wider aspects of customer experience that really matter to people.  

"It makes me feel as though it’s my fault for not understanding the process.”

“I want to talk to someone who’s real and sensible instead of someone who’s following a script to try and defend themselves.”

“I can’t stand being passed from pillar to post for weeks on end. How hard can it be to just sort it out?”

“I don’t need endless detailed explanations about things that aren’t relevant to me.”

“I just want someone to explain what’s happened and what I need to do.”

our website users

Each day during the year an average of 17,100 people logged onto our website. There is more information in the chapter called “the complaints we received” about how our website forms a major part of our frontline service to customers.

To find out more about our website users, we run an online survey each year. This year we found that:

  • 87% of users were consumers and 13% 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 don’t use our website helps us make decisions on its design and content. And it helps when we’re deciding the best channels of communication to get our messages across effectively.

the information people looked for on our website %
information on how to complain 27
how to contact us 22.5
other details about us 14
frequently-asked questions 12
complaints data 9
publications for consumers 6
news updates 5
other information 4.5
the age are our website users % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
under 25 5 1
25-34 20 11
35-44 22 17
45-54 25 24
55-64 20 19
over 65 8 28

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

Consumers over 65 continued to be significantly more likely to refer a complaint to us than they are to look at our website. This may reflect the fact that a relatively high proportion of older people still don’t – or can’t – use the internet. Research we carried out during the year shows that 18% of people between 55 and 64 who use our service don’t have internet access – rising to 49% of the over 65s.

On the other hand, people between 25 and 34 are around twice as likely to visit our website as they are to 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) 25 28
North West 16 12
Midlands 15.5 20
South West 9.5 9
North East 7 10
East Anglia 6 5
Wales 6 5
Scotland 4 6
Northern Ireland 2 2
outside the UK 9 0

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

Our website attracts a significant number of overseas visitors. Their feedback shows that they are comparing the approach we take to resolving different types of financial complaints in the UK with approaches taken in their own countries.

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 web searches – mostly using Google. Other websites that direct many people to ours continue to include bbc.co.uk, moneysavingexpert.com and thisismoney.co.uk.

the words people "Google" to get to our website

| ombudsman | complaint | financial ombudsman | fos | PPI claim | car insurance ombudsman | section 75 consumer credit act | complaint watchdog | direct debit | banking ombudsman | PPI ombudsman