There are time limits affecting whether we can or can’t help with a complaint.
How long you have to complain to a business
You usually need to complain to a business or to us within six years of your problem happening.
If you haven’t done this, we can’t usually investigate the complaint unless:
- you weren’t aware you had a reason to complain at the time
- you make your complaint within three years of becoming aware (or when you should reasonably have become aware) that you had cause to complain
We may also be able to consider a complaint if there are exceptional circumstances that account for the delay.
Time limits for a business to reply
A business has 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, a business has eight weeks to consider a complaint.
After these time limits have passed, they should send you their final response.
What the final response should say
The final response should mention that you have the right to refer your complaint to us in the next six months.
If the final response doesn't mention the six-month time limit, then the response isn't valid and you can still complain to us after that.
The final response also needs to state whether the business agrees to us looking into the complaint if it’s referred to us after the six-month time limit runs out. If a business says they agree, they can't change their mind later on.
How long you have to complain to us after receiving the final response
After you’ve received the business’s final response, you have six months to refer your complaint to us.
If you complain later than this, we usually won’t be able to help unless:
- the delay is due to exceptional circumstances – for example, you were seriously ill during the time when you should have referred your complaint
- the business didn’t send a valid final response
- the business agrees to us being involved after the six-month time limit
If a business doesn’t consent 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 you have exceptional circumstances, we may still investigate the case, even if the business hasn't given their 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 a business sent a final response on 7 May, you have until 7 November to refer the complaint to us.
If a business sent a final response on 30 August then you have until 28 February to complain to us – since it’s not possible to have an end date of 30 February.
If you can clearly show that there were exceptional circumstanced for missing the deadline, you may still be able to submit a complaint. Examples of things that may be considered exceptional are a period of serious ill health, or a bereavement at the relevant time in question.
Below are some examples where we've considered exceptional circumstances that led to customers missing the six-month deadline for contacting us.
A serious illness prevents a customer from complaining on time
Deborah referred her complaint to us six weeks late. However, she sent us evidence that she’d been diagnosed with colon cancer and undergone an operation just before she received the business’s final response. She’d also had chemotherapy throughout the six-month period. We agreed these were exceptional circumstances.
Henry referred his complaint to us five months late. He said he’d had serious depression for several months. However, he’d continued to write to the business about his complaint during the six-month period after getting their final response so we felt he could also have referred his complaint to us in that time too. We agreed with the business that his complaint was out of time.
A business error leads to a late complaint from a customer
A couple got a final response from a business saying they had until 8 October 2018 to refer their complaint to us. Before they contacted us, they replied to the business to disagree with their findings.
The business wrote back and reminded the couple that they could refer the complaint to us. Unfortunately, they wrongly said that the couple had until 15 December 2018 to do so.
The couple referred their complaint to us on 26 October (18 days after the real deadline of 8 October). The couple told us they thought they had until 15 December, as the business had told them in their second letter. We agreed this was reasonable and were able to consider their complaint due to exceptional circumstances caused by the business’s mistake.
A customer has a bereavement in the six-month time limit
Emily complained to us two weeks late. Her mother had died shortly before the six-month time limit expired and this clearly counted as exceptional circumstances.
A customer changes their mind about complaining to us
George referred his complaint to us three months late. He told us he’d found the business's final response letter intimidating and didn’t think he’d win his case.
Later on, he changed his mind and decided he still wanted to pursue his complaint. We didn’t agree that the business’s letter was intimidating and felt he’d had enough time to complain. This didn’t count as exceptional circumstances for a late complaint.
Doreen referred her complaint two months late. She told us that she’d been abroad caring for a sick relative throughout the six-month period and couldn’t access her post during that time. She returned to the UK shortly before the end of the six month period and saw the business's final response for the first time. She was also unwell herself on her return and needed hospital treatment. We agreed she’d suffered exceptional circumstances and it was reasonable for her to make a late complaint to us.
Joan referred her complaint to us several months late. She told us that the demands of running her own business had prevented her from pursuing her complaint. We didn’t agree this counted as exceptional circumstances and so we didn’t investigate her late complaint.
Time limits for mortgage endowment complaints
Different time limits apply to complaints about endowment policies taken out to repay mortgages.
If you have a complaint about an endowment policy, you should read further guidance to understand the time limits you need to follow.
Time limits for PPI
The deadline for submitting complaints to a business you believe mis-sold you PPI was 29 August 2019. It is now too late to submit a complaint to a business, unless you can clearly show that there were exceptional circumstances that prevented you from making a complaint by the deadline.
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. And you won’t be able to use this as a reason on its own to explain why you missed the deadline to complain. But if you can clearly show that there were exceptional circumstances for missing the deadline, you may still be able to have your complaint looked into.
We have set out some general examples where we've considered exceptional circumstances in the case studies above. If you have been told by a business it's too late to make a complaint but feel there are exceptional circumstances that prevented you from doing so, you might still be able to complain and can contact us. Examples of why you 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.
But remember, you may also be able to still submit a complaint to the business if you were sold the PPI policy after 29 August 2017 or if your complaint is about a claim being turned down by an insurer.