This page contains information for financial businesses about our general approach to complaints involving discrimination.
What is discrimination?
In the everyday sense, discrimination can mean treating a person unfairly because of who they are. The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people in Great Britain from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.
The Act sets out the legal definition of discrimination and the laws that protect people from it. There are nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
The Act makes clear that a service provider, providing services to the public, must not discriminate against a person because of a protected characteristic. However, this doesn’t apply to the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership.
Financial businesses also have a duty under the Act to make reasonable adjustments to remove barriers to using their services.
More information about the Equality Act can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC’s) website.
Different equality law applies in Northern Ireland and more information about this can be found on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s website.
Types of complaint we see
We hear from many people each year who say they’ve been treated differently because of who they are, and they’ve been discriminated against. People have come to us saying:
- they have a disability, and their financial services provider hasn’t made reasonable adjustments in how they communicate with them
- they’ve been discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic:
— their car insurance premiums were higher because of their age
— they felt racially profiled by the business
- they were excluded from accessing a product or service because they didn’t have access to a mobile phone
- they couldn’t sign up for an account unless they selected a title or gender they didn’t identify with.
Consumers won’t always use the language of ‘discrimination’ or refer to equality law. They might simply tell us they’re being treated differently or unfairly, or a business isn’t meeting their needs.
Things to consider when handling a complaint like this
As with all complaints, it’s important to carry out a fair and impartial investigation into what happened. That can involve:
- working with your customer to get to the bottom of what happened
- being aware of unconscious bias
- keeping an open mind, and
- not making assumptions or reaching conclusions until you’ve completed your investigation.
Complaints about discrimination can be hard to talk about and take a heavy emotional toll. They can be very sensitive and affect a customer’s physical and mental health. So, it’s important they’re handled with care and respect.
If something’s gone wrong, ask questions to establish what the impact has been. This will vary from person to person but finding out will help you put things right.
When you’re ready to share your final response, it’s helpful to explain the investigation you carried out and what you took into account when reaching the outcome. This supports transparency, helps build trust and is persuasive. Ensure you’ve addressed the consumer’s points and tackled them head on.
If something’s gone wrong – and you’re making an offer of compensation to put things right – it’s useful to explain clearly how you arrived at the amount. This helps the customer decide for themselves whether the amount is fair.
The customer can bring their complaint to us if:
- you don’t reply within the time limits for responding to a complaint, or
- they disagree with your response.
We’ll check it’s something we can deal with, and if it is, we’ll investigate.
Read more about resolving complaints.
What we look at
We look at complaints involving discrimination in the usual way. That is, taking account of relevant law and regulation, regulator’s rules, guidance and standards, codes of practice and what we consider to be good industry practice.
As a financial business you’re a service provider under the Equality Act 2010, so in some cases the Act may be relevant law. Our role isn’t to make a formal judgement – in the way a court would – on whether a business has breached the Act. Our role is to consider whether the consumer has been treated fairly and reasonably, taking individual circumstances into account.
In doing this we’ll consider your overarching duty to treat customers fairly, what happened and whether you did what we’d expect. In some cases, you might have followed a standard process, but that might not have been appropriate or fair in the circumstances.
We’ll also consider how you handled things once the consumer told you they’d been discriminated against or treated differently. We’ll want to understand what actions you took, and how quickly you responded when you had the opportunity to put things right.
There can be an overlap between certain protected characteristics and characteristics of vulnerability. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) expects financial businesses to take particular care to ensure vulnerable customers are treated fairly.
If relevant, we’ll also consider whether you were aware, or should have been aware, that your customer was vulnerable. We’ll look at what support you offered or put in place, and we’ll take this into account when deciding how to put things right.
Putting things right
If we find you haven’t treated your customer fairly, we'll ask you to put things right. To do this we’ll make sure we understand how a mistake has impacted a customer’s life and what they’re looking for to put things right. This could include:
- ensuring the consumer hasn’t lost out financially
- asking you to apologise
- asking you to pay compensation to acknowledge the emotional and practical impact of mistakes
- directing you to review a decision you’ve made or to make adjustments to how you communicate with the consumer.
Read more about our approach to compensation.
Businesses should also learn from the outcomes we reach on cases to prevent further harm or similar complaints arising in the future.
Renata's bank didn't make reasonable adjustments to communications with her
Sally complains of age discrimination at her bank
Dylan felt his bank racially profiled him when he visited a branch
Josie complains she can’t bank or shop online without a mobile
Sataj felt an insurance company racially discriminated against him
Business Support Hub
If you want to talk informally about a complaint you’ve received, you can speak to our Business Support Hub. They can give general information on how the Financial Ombudsman Service might look at a particular complaint. They also offer guidance on our rules and how we work.
Find out how to contact our Business Support Hub.
Information for consumers
If you’re a consumer looking for information on how we can help you with a complaint, you can read more about this in our dedicated information for consumers on our approach to complaints involving discrimination.
To make a complaint to a financial business or to us, read more about how to complain.