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our consumer leaflet

your complaint and the ombudsman

about the ombudsman

The Financial Ombudsman Service can step in if you’ve made a complaint to a financial business – but you’re not happy with the way things have turned out.  

Set up by Parliament, we’re free for consumers to use. We’ll look at the facts of what’s happened and give an independent and unbiased view.

If we think the business has dealt with your complaint fairly – or there’s just been a misunderstanding – we’ll explain why. But if we decide the business has done something wrong, we can tell them to put things right.

Every year, more than a million people contact us about problems they’re having with:

  • banking
  • insurance
  • mortgages
  • credit cards and store cards
  • loans, including payday loans 
  • credit and debt collection
  • pensions
  • savings and investments
  • hire purchase and pawnbroking
  • money transfers
  • financial advice
  • stocks, shares, unit trusts and bonds.

If you’re not sure if we can help, phone us on 0300 123 9 123. If you’re worried about the cost of calling us, we’ll be happy to phone you back.

what should I do first?

Before we can look into your complaint, the business needs to have a chance to sort things out. So first of all, get in touch with them to explain what’s happened – and how you want things put right. 

If you’re not sure about anything, contact us. We can tell the business about the problem for you.  

The business has eight weeks to respond to your complaint. If you’re not happy with what they say, or eight weeks have passed and you haven’t had a response, we might be able to help.

how do I ask you to step in? 

You’ll need to contact us within six months of receiving the business’s final response to your complaint. 

You can download our form from our website, fill it in and send it to us by post or email. Or if you phone us, we can fill it in for you. We’ll need to know: 

  • some personal details – like your name and address
  • your account number or policy number 
  • what your complaint is about – and what your ideal solution would be.

If you’d like us to use a different format when we contact you – like Braille, large print or audiotape – or a different language, just let us know.

what will happen if you look into my complaint?

If we can help with your complaint, we’ll:

  • ask for your side of the story
  • ask the business to give us their side
  • weigh up the facts – what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen and
  • tell you and the business what we think.

If we think the business’s response to your complaint is fair – or there’s just been a misunderstanding – we’ll explain why. But if we decide the business has done something wrong, we can tell them to put things right.

We sort out most complaints at this stage. But if you (or the business) don’t agree with our initial, informal view, you can “appeal” by asking for a review and a final decision by an ombudsman. 

Our involvement ends there. However, if you’re unhappy with the outcome, you can still take your complaint to court. 

how long does it take?

We’ll need to look into what’s happened very carefully, so we can’t say upfront how long it will take before we can give you an answer. 

It depends on how complicated the situation is – and how much information we need to sort it out. We can resolve some complaints in just a few weeks. But some can take over a year – and if it’s about payment protection insurance, it could be two years.

It will also take longer if you or the business want to take things further once we’ve given you our initial view.

is there a deadline for asking you to step in? 

Yes. You need to contact us within six months of the date of the business’s response to your complaint.  

And it’s possible we won’t be able to help if: 

  • what you’re complaining about happened more than six years ago and
  • you complain more than three years after you realise (or should have realised) that there’s a problem.

can someone help me complain? 

Anyone can complain on your behalf – for example, a member of your family, a friend or Citizens Advice. You’ll still need to sign our complaint form so that we know you’re happy for us to talk to them. 

But you don’t need specialist help – for example, from a solicitor or claims company – to deal with us. We prefer to hear from you in your own words and we’ll explain everything clearly. 

If you do ask a professional to complain for you, it’s likely you’ll have to pay their costs. If we agree with your complaint, these costs might have to come out of any compensation we tell the business to pay you.

is using the ombudsman like going to court?

No – we’re far less formal. There’s no face-to-face cross-examination. We’ll contact you over the phone and in writing. 

Our service isn’t suitable in all situations. For example, the most we can make a business pay you is £150,000. So if you think you’re owed back more than that, it might be better for you to go to court. 

Or you might prefer the court if you want to ask your own questions, inspect all the evidence, or cross-examine the business yourself.  

We won’t usually look into a complaint that a court has considered already – or where court action is due to take place.

I run a small business – can you help me? 

We can look at most complaints from smaller businesses – as long as they have:

  • an annual turnover of less than two million euros and
  • fewer than ten employees.

can you fine businesses?

No – our role isn’t to “punish” businesses.

Our role is to look into your individual complaint and make sure you aren’t out of pocket. If we agree the business has done something wrong, we’ll tell them to put you in the position you would be in if they had acted as they should.

But we do tell the regulators about the complaints we’re receiving. It’s the industry regulators (including the Financial Conduct Authority) who set the rules that businesses follow. And the regulators can fine businesses if they aren’t following the rules.  

This is only a general guide – and the rules we follow can be complex. If you contact us, we’ll do our best to explain any rules or restrictions that may apply to your situation.

image: consumer leaflet

This version of our consumer leaflet is designed to be read on screen. Where appropriate, businesses are required to give consumers an official print version (not a print-out of this web page).

Consumers can get a printed version on 0300 123 9 123.

Businesses can order supplies of the leaflet from us for their customers.

meeting your needs and speaking your language

We can produce our publications in Braille, large print or audiotape.

Information is also available in a range of other languages.

Our consumer leaflet is available in easy read (accessible text format)