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ombudsman news

issue 85

April/May 2010

ombudsman news "Q&As"

featuring questions that businesses and advice workers have raised recently with the ombudsman's technical advice desk - our free, expert service for professional complaints-handlers.

I've heard that the ombudsman has introduced new standard forms for payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints- What does this mean for these complaints-

Following consultation with consumer groups, claims-management companies and financial services businesses, we have designed and launched two standard documents to help the PPI complaints process. The aim is a more streamlined operation for dealing fairly, consistently and efficiently with consumers' complaints about PPI - right across the financial services sector.

The new standard documentation involves two forms. The consumer questionnaire is the form for consumers to complete when bringing a PPI complaint - either to a financial business or to the ombudsman service. The business response form is for financial businesses to complete whenever a PPI complaint is referred to the ombudsman service.

Each form has been carefully designed to bring together as many facts and arguments as possible in one single process. The forms are available to download from the online PPI resource on our website (in the publications section). There is also an online Q&A guide to the forms.

I see you've changed the time-frame for responses to your enquiries. Can you give me more details about this-

Yes - we are now generally asking businesses and consumers to respond to our questions and requests for information within 14 days.

We said in ombudsman news in November 2009 (issue 81) that we would tighten up timetables for complaints handling. And we told larger businesses that a change was coming. We understand that the change might cause short-term difficulties for some businesses. But moving to shorter timescales should enable us to improve our service to financial businesses and customers alike - and help get complaints settled sooner.

Most of the information we request from financial businesses is routine. Typically it's the same information that the business would have considered when it issued its final decision on the consumer's complaint. So those papers should already be to hand. If we need new or unusual information, we may give more time for a response.

If a financial business (or consumer) has particular difficulties in responding to us by the deadline we have given, you can ask the adjudicator for more time. We will consider requests like this sympathetically. But we cannot usually extend deadlines set by an ombudsman. And we reserve the right to progress the case to the next stage of our process - including to a final ombudsman decision - if a financial business (or a consumer) continues to delay responding to us.

How many complaints does the ombudsman service get from smaller businesses-

We handle around 5,000 complaints each year from smaller businesses, where the dispute involves specific issues such as commercial insurance and business banking.

However, sole traders and people running micro-enterprises do not always register their complaint with us as a business dispute, as they often see the issues as essentially personal rather than commercial.

There is more information for smaller businesses on our dedicated online resource.

I notice you're no longer promoting 0845 080 1800 as your main number for consumers. What number should people use instead-

We won't be promoting our 0845 number any longer - because people are increasingly confused about how much it costs to phone 0845 numbers. But the number will continue to work - and people will still be able to phone us on it.

However, to make it even easier for people to contact us - and to help remove any concerns about the cost of phoning us - we've introduced a new "easily memorable" phone number: 08000 234 567. This number is free for people phoning us from a "land line". It is an alternative to our existing number, 0300 123 9 123 - which is free for mobile-phone users who pay a monthly charge for calls to numbers starting 01 or 02. We are also always happy to phone people back, if they are worried about the cost of calling us.

Our aim is to give consumers the choice to phone us on the number they prefer - depending on which one they find more convenient and cheaper to use (or in many cases free) - subject to their own phone tariff. So we may introduce and promote different phone numbers at different times - reflecting the diverse and changing ways in which consumers want to contact us by phone, from payphone to VoIP ("voice over internet" phone).

We know that consumers sometimes keep hold of our leaflets for a very long time. We will therefore ensure that old phone numbers that we are no longer promoting still continue to connect to our consumer helpline.

We don't expect organisations to automatically re-print leaflets giving our updated contact details - just because we are promoting a new or different phone number. Instead, we suggest that you keep an eye on the phone numbers we show on the "contact us" page of our website - and update your leaflets and/or literature appropriately each time you organise a re-print.

I've seen a new style of communication from your casehandlers. What's this about-

We are always looking at ways to improve our service and efficiency - and to respond better to the changing needs of our users. One area we have been looking at is the clarity and presentation of our decisions. Our research shows that our users value brief and to-the-point communication - making it clear what the outcome of a complaint should be and why.

So we are trialling a new form of communication for our adjudicators and ombudsmen to use. The approach to our cases has not changed - just the way we communicate the outcomes.

We have adopted a new distinct design, rather different from our conventional letters to consumers and businesses. We have tried to make the design work better for all users - so people can see at a glance, on one page, the key conclusions we have reached, whether or not the financial business should pay redress, and what needs to be done next.

We have incorporated a number of improvements into the new design - including a clearer and simpler way for users to respond if they have further points. And for the first time we routinely use both sides of the paper!

So far we have issued 5,000 adjudicator or ombudsman decisions in this way - and feedback has been positive. If you have received one of our new-style decisions, we would be interested in your feedback. Please email our technical advice team.

You've now published two sets of complaints data relating to individual named businesses. Will you be consulting on any changes to the format etc-

In September 2009, and again in February 2010, we made complaints data available showing the number of new complaints - and the proportion of complaints we upheld in favour of consumers - for the 150 or so financial businesses that together make up around 90% of our complaints workload.

This followed a period of extensive public consultation - and a detailed communications programme to explain the logistical arrangements, including the agreed format for publication.

We are committed to publishing updated complaints data every six months. We will be reviewing the arrangements in 2011 - by which time the FSA will have published its own first set of consolidated complaints data, using information it is requiring individual firms to publish first themselves. By that time stakeholders will therefore be better placed to see the whole picture on complaints data - and to comment accordingly.

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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.