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ombudsman news

issue 33

November 2003

ask ombudsman news - your questions answered

frivolous and vexatious-

The ombudsman service has just rejected a complaint made against my firm. I always thought the customer was just causing trouble, so I feel vindicated at last. As the complaint was clearly vexatious, does this mean you won't charge me a case fee-

Under our rules, we don't charge a firm a case fee if we consider a complaint against them is "frivolous and vexatious" - we simply dismiss the complaint without considering its merits. Nor do we charge a case fee where, when we receive a complaint, we consider it readily apparent that:

  • the person complaining is not an "eligible complainant" under our rules; or
  • the complaint is outside our jurisdiction; or
  • the complaint should be dismissed without consideration of its merits (for example, because the complainant hasn't suffered financial loss or material inconvenience).

We know that some consumers pursue their complaints with a single-minded tenacity - sometimes in an unfocused and unbalanced manner that may make them seem unreasonable to the firm. But a consumer's failure to present a coherent and reasoned argument doesn't automatically mean their case has no merit - or that their complaint is "frivolous and vexatious".

Behind the most complex and voluminous of complaints there may be a simple wrong that has escalated, as both sides have lost sight of the basic facts of the case. These disputes take time and patience to unravel - and first impressions about who is right or wrong can be deceptive. We may ultimately decide that a consumer's complaint cannot be upheld - but this does not, of itself, mean the complaint can, or should, be dismissed as "frivolous' or 'vexatious".

15-year "long-stop"

The manager of a citizens advice bureau writes ... My client is having great problems getting her mortgage endowment mis-selling complaint sorted. The insurance company won't look at her complaint because they say it is "time barred by the 15-year long-stop", and that she can't bring it to the ombudsman service either. Is this true-

The "15-year longstop" may prevent someone from pursuing their complaint through the courts - where the case relates to something that happened more than 15 years ago. But firms are still obliged by FSA rules to respond to the subject matter of complaints - even if they're about things that happened more than 15 years ago. So far as the ombudsman is concerned, the fact that a complaint goes back more than 15 years doesn't mean we can't look at it. We have our own rules on time limits which determine whether a complaint is "time-barred".

Broadly speaking, we can look at complaints that relate to something that happened within the last six years. If the complaint goes back more than that, we may still be able to help if the customer only became aware of the problem within the last three years.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news issue 33 [PDF format]

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.