There are time limits affecting whether we can or can’t help with a complaint.
How long a customer has to complain
A customer usually needs to complain to you or to us within six years of the event complained about.
If they haven’t done this, we can’t usually investigate the complaint unless the customer makes their complaint within three years of becoming aware (or when they ought reasonably to have become aware) that they had cause to complain:
We also may be able to consider a complaint if they have exceptional circumstances for a delay in complaining.
Time limits for replying
You have 15 days to consider complaints about:
- payment services – such as bank transfers or direct debits
- electronic money – for example, online money transfers, Apple Pay or travel money cards
For most other complaints, you have eight weeks to consider a complaint.
After these time limits have passed, you should send the customer a final response.
What the final response should say
The final response should mention that the customer has the right to refer their complaint to us in the next six months and enclose a copy of our leaflet and our website address.
The final response also needs to state whether you agree to us looking into the complaint if it’s referred to us after the six-month time limit runs out. If you say you agree, you can't change your mind later on.
You can check the correct wording to use in your final responses.
How long a customer has to complain to us after receiving the final response
After a customer has received your final response, they have six months to refer their complaint to us.
If they complain later than this, we usually won’t be able to help unless:
- the delay is due to exceptional circumstances – for example, they were seriously ill during the time when they should have referred the complaint
- you didn’t send a valid final response
- you consent to waive the six month time limit
If you don’t agree to us investigating a late complaint, we'll look into what's happened and decide if we agree the complaint is out of time. If the customer has exceptional circumstances, we may still investigate the case, even if you haven’t given your consent.
How to calculate when the six-month time limit ends
This six-month deadline starts from the date the business sends the final response. We then use calendar months to work out the end date.
So if you send a final response on 7 May, the customer has until 7 November to refer the complaint to us.
If you send a final response on 30 August, then the customer has until 28 February to complain to us – since it’s not possible to have an end date of 30 February.
We can consider complaints brought to us after the six-month time limit if the consumer missed the deadline due to exceptional circumstances. We will expect to see evidence that the consumer was affected by circumstances that were exceptional - and that those circumstances caused the delay. An example might be where the consumer was incapacitated by illness.
Find out more about how we consider exceptional circumstances in these case studies.
Time limits for mortgage endowment complaints
Different time limits apply to complaints about endowment policies taken out to repay mortgages.
If you handle complaints about endowment policies, you can read further guidance to understand the time limits you need to follow.
Time limits for PPI
The Financial Conduct Authority has already given guidance to businesses that a consumer not knowing about the deadline will not count as an exceptional circumstance. Customers won’t be able to use this as a reason on its own to explain why they missed the deadline to complain. But if they can clearly show that there were exceptional circumstances for missing the deadline, they may still be able to have their complaint looked into.
Examples of why customers didn’t complain in time that might be considered exceptional are a period of serious ill health, or a bereavement at the relevant time in question.
They may also be able to still submit a complaint to a business if they were sold the PPI policy after 29 August 2017 or if the complaint is about a claim being turned down by an insurer.
Does a 15-year "long-stop" apply to complaints to the ombudsman service?
In civil actions in the courts, there is usually an overall "long-stop" requirement that the matter complained about should have happened within the last 15-years. This limitation does not apply to complaints to the ombudsman. There is no 15-year "long-stop" rule in the complaints-handling rules made under the legislation that set up the ombudsman service.
This reflects the fact that financial products are "intangible" and can be of a very long-term nature. Problems - for example, with a mortgage product or a whole-of-life policy - may only emerge or become apparent many years after the contract was taken out.
On the other hand, an important time-limit that applies to consumers bringing complaints to the ombudsman service - but not to legal action in the courts - is the requirement under the complaints-handling rules for a consumer to complain to the ombudsman within six months of the final response letter from the business concerned, as outlined above.