This page offers consumers information about our general approach to complaints involving discrimination.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination is often described as treating someone differently or unfairly because of the way they look, where they’re from, the way they sound, a disability, their faith or because they have certain characteristics.
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 you 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 organisations providing services to the public, such as financial businesses, mustn’t 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.
You can find out more information about the Equality Act 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:
- “I asked my mortgage company to make reasonable adjustments to the way they communicated with me because of the medical condition I live with. But, so far, they have refused my request and I am unable to read the correspondence they have sent me.”
- “Despite not making any claims on my car insurance, my renewal quote was considerably more expensive than last year because I’d turned 70. The insurer said it would cost more to insure me because the risk of a claim being made on my insurance policy was higher. My insurer has discriminated against me because of my age.”
- “I was racially profiled by my bank,” or “My bank singled me out because of my race.”
- “My bank has not understood the impact my medical condition has on me. They see me as a nuisance and have given me notice that they will be closing my account.”
- “My bank said I had to have a mobile phone in order to access my account, and because I don’t, I can’t access some of the services and products they offer.”
- “I can’t access a business’s services unless I choose a title like Mr or Mrs, or a gender I don’t identify with.”
- “My application for life cover was declined by the business because of my mental health condition and I don’t think that’s fair.”
How to complain
The first thing you need to do is complain to the financial business about what’s happened.
They should look into things and reply within eight weeks. You can bring your complaint to us if:
- you’re not happy with their response, or
- they don’t get back to you within eight weeks.
We’ll check your complaint is something we can deal with. If it is, we’ll investigate. Sometimes, we can get involved sooner. It depends on what the complaint is about and which business you’re unhappy with.
It won’t cost you anything to bring a complaint to us and we try and keep things straightforward and informal.
However, we understand if you’d rather not tell us some things directly – perhaps because they’re difficult to talk about. If so, you can ask someone else to talk to us on your behalf. This might be a friend, a family member or someone like a support worker.
Find out more about how to complain.
How long it takes
We publish information about when you can expect to hear from us once you’ve sent us a complaint.
If you feel your complaint needs to be dealt with urgently because you’re facing financial hardship or severe ill health, let us know. Once your complaint is with an investigator, they’ll talk to you in more detail about timing and next steps.
Read more about how long it takes once you’ve sent us your complaint
What you can expect from us
We’ll start by asking you what happened. If you can include who was involved and any relevant times and dates, that would be helpful. We’ll also want to understand:
- why you think the business has discriminated against you
- how that’s impacted you and made you feel, and
- what you’d like the business to do to put things right.
We’ll be careful not to ask for more information than is needed to investigate each complaint. We’ll also request any information from the business which is relevant to the issues you’ve raised.
Sometimes we can work with you and the business to mediate an outcome that’s acceptable for both parties and allows you to move on. However, if that’s not possible or appropriate, we’ll consider all the evidence to reach a fair and reasonable outcome. And, where relevant, we will take equality law into account.
We appreciate that issues of discrimination can be difficult to talk about. We also recognise you may have been experiencing these issues for some time and across your interactions with more than one business. We’ll do our best to handle complaints sensitively and take the time to understand your perspective.
What we look at
Our role is to consider whether a consumer has been treated fairly and reasonably, taking into account:
- relevant law and regulation
- regulators’ rules
- guidance and standards
- codes of practice, and
- what we consider to be good industry practice at the time.
According to the Equality Act 2010, a financial business is a ‘service provider’. That means, in complaints involving discrimination, we may take the Act or other equality law into account.
This isn’t the same as making a formal judgement – in the way that a court would – about whether a business has breached the Act. That’s not our role.
Davide held a joint bank account with an older family member. He told us he’d had some problems when he tried to deposit a small amount of money in branch and that staff had been dismissive. He told us that his family hadn’t had any problems when they’d tried to deposit the money at the branch later that day. Davide is 19 years old and felt he’d been treated differently because of his age. He said the bank had breached the Equality Act 2010.
We looked into what happened and found that the bank hadn’t followed its own process or provided a good level of service to Davide when he’d tried to deposit funds. We concluded that he hadn’t been treated fairly. And we could understand why he thought this might have been because of his age, particularly as an older family member had no issue depositing the money.
We asked the bank to apologise and pay compensation, but it wasn’t for us to make a finding about whether the bank had breached the Equality Act.
What does this mean in practice?
Whether or not the Equality Act is relevant to your complaint, financial businesses have a duty to treat customers fairly.
We’ll ask you to tell us what happened and consider whether the business handled things as we’d expect. In some cases, a business might have followed a standard process, but we may think that wasn’t appropriate or fair in the circumstances.
There can also be an overlap between certain protected characteristics, and characteristics of vulnerability. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) expects businesses to take particular care to ensure vulnerable customers are treated fairly and has identified four key drivers of vulnerability:
- health – conditions or illnesses
- life events – such as bereavements or a relationship breakdown
- low resilience to withstand financial or emotional shocks, and
- low knowledge or capability in handling financial issues.
We’ll want to understand what the business knew about your circumstances and what support was or could have been put in place.
If we investigate and decide that a business didn’t do everything it was required to do – or didn’t treat you fairly – we have the power to put this right.
Putting things right
If you have been treated unfairly by a financial business, we’ll ask them to put things right.
What this involves will depend on the circumstances of the complaint. It might include asking the business to pay you compensation for financial loss.
We could tell the business to do things differently for you in the future. This might be by making adjustments in its communication with you or reviewing a decision its already made.
Complaints involving issues of discrimination can have a significant and long-lasting emotional impact. They’re often time-consuming and tiring for a consumer to resolve as well. Where that’s the case, we can also tell the business to apologise and pay compensation to acknowledge the impact on you.
Read more about our approach to compensation.
Renata's bank didn't make reasonable adjustments to communications with her
Sataj felt an insurance company racially discriminated against him
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
Information for businesses
If you’re a financial business looking for information to help you resolve complaints, please see our dedicated information for businesses about how we approach complaints involving discrimination.