For consumers

Can small businesses use the Financial Ombudsman?

Date published: 22 January 2024 Blog SME Jurisdiction

You may be aware that the Financial Ombudsman Service resolves disputes between individual consumers and financial businesses. But did you know we can also consider complaints from small businesses and other small organisations?

Colin Brown is an expert in commercial banking disputes and a senior Ombudsman in our Small Business team. He explains what type of businesses and organisations we can help.

Can we help all small businesses?

We can help small businesses operating in any industry, from shops and farms to plumbers and street vendors, and everything else. We can help private businesses, public sector businesses or not-for-profit businesses. We can also help all forms of business, whether a sole trader, a limited company or a partnership.

However, there are rules that set out who we can help according to the size of your business at the point of your complaint against the financial firm. The key criteria are:

  • the size of your turnover
  • what you have on your balance sheet, and
  • the number of staff you employ.

So long as the event you’re complaining about happened after 1 April 2019, we’ll consider you a small businesses if your annual turnover was less than £6.5 million and you either:

  • had total assets on your balance sheet of less than £5 million, or
  • employed fewer than 50 people.

What about charities and trusts?

You may also be able to bring your complaint to us if you’re a charity or trust.

Again, what matters is the size of your charity or trust at the point you complained to the financial business.

So long as the event you’re complaining about happened after 1 April 2019, we’ll be able to consider it if:

  • for charities, your annual income was less than £6.5 million;
  • for trusts, your net asset value was less than £5 million.

We regularly help charities, community associations, clubs, societies and religious groups, and trusts of all sorts.

Checking your eligibility

Assessing the size of a business, charity or trust is not always easy.

We’ll consult records at Companies House or the Charity Commission, but we’re also likely to ask you to provide management accounts or founding documents.

As well as considering the size of your business or organisation, we have to think about any linked or partner entities. This means we’ll also need to look at what other businesses you own, shareholdings and group structures.

If we don’t have jurisdiction to consider your complaint, perhaps because your business doesn’t meet the criteria, we don’t have the ability to make exceptions. But in those circumstances, we will explain why we’re unable to help.

Our eligibility checker will give you an idea of whether we can help with your complaint.

About the author

Colin Brown is an expert in commercial banking disputes and has been an Ombudsman with the Financial Ombudsman Service since 2012. He has extensive experience in delivering fair outcomes for consumers and small businesses. Before joining us, Colin was Director of Markets and Projects at the Office of Fair Trading. Previously, he was Chairman of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, and Deputy Director of Research for the Consumers’ Association.