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ombudsman news

issue 102

April/May 2012

Q&As

the business I work for has just received a complaint which we think is outside the ombudsman's jurisdiction. Does this mean there will be no case fee if the complaint is later referred to you?

It may not always be a straightforward matter to determine whether a complaint is covered by the ombudsman service. "Jurisdiction" disputes can involve complex arguments, and we will need to take account of - and investigate - all the facts and legal points that either side might raise.

Where it is not apparent - from the complaint form and the final response letter from the business to the consumer - whether or not we can take on a complaint, a case fee will become chargeable - even if we later decide, after more investigation, that the complaint is outside our jurisdiction. This reflects the work we still have to do on these cases - often involving legal advice and guidance from senior staff and ombudsmen.

However, all businesses are entitled to a number of "free" cases. We don't charge businesses for the first three chargeable cases closed during the (financial) year. We charge only for the fourth (and any subsequent) case. This means most businesses covered by the ombudsman service never pay a case fee at all.

We have just consulted publicly on a new approach to charging businesses for cases from April 2013. The proposals include developing a new group-account arrangement for each of the 10 financial services groups that together account for 75% of our complaints workload - and increasing the number of free cases from 3 to 25 for the majority of businesses that have the lowest number of complaints referred to the ombudsman service (so that only 1% of businesses would pay any case fees at all).

what work does the ombudsman do to keep in touch with consumer organisations?

We work closely with a very wide range of front-line consumer organisations - meeting community and voluntary workers from all kinds of local advice agencies at the training events we hold across the UK every year.

We take part in annual conferences and events run by national consumer bodies such as Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland, Trading Standards, the Money Advice Trust and the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland - as well as providing complaints-handling training for front-line organisations such as Age UK and the National Association of Student Money Advisers.

We work in partnership with six disability, mental health and wellbeing charities - including the Samaritans, British Dyslexia Association and Alzheimer's Society - who provide training and guidance for our staff on disability issues.

And we host our consumer-liaison group for representatives from a wide range of national consumer groups - to discuss and share information and issues relating to consumers, consumer detriment and complaints in financial services. The following consumer organisations are represented on this group:

  • Age UK
  • Consumer Council of Northern Ireland
  • Consumer Credit Counselling Service
  • Consumer Focus
  • Citizens Advice
  • Financial Services Consumer Panel
  • Money Advice Scotland
  • Money Advice Service
  • Money Advice Trust
  • Trading Standards
  • Which?