How financial businesses should work with us to resolve complaints

Date published: 17 October 2023 Blog Business Support Hub CMC

James Dipple-Johnstone

Deputy Chief Ombudsman

James is responsible for leading our Ombudsman and Investigation teams.

Here, he explains what financial firms and claims management companies (CMCs) should do when a complaint is referred to our service – and highlights the support we provide to assist with good complaint handling.

Information about the current process for making an offer to proactively settle a complaint is set out on our How we handle complaints page.

The way financial businesses and CMCs respond to complaints, and work with us, makes a huge difference to how we can deliver our service.

Recently, we wrote to financial firms (PDF 187KB) and professional representatives (PDF 187KB) to explain the part they play in helping us deliver our service and in resolving complaints for customers. It’s in everyone’s interests to resolve complaints quickly and efficiently.

Financial businesses and CMCs can help by thinking carefully about the way they engage with us and respond to complaints and requests for information. They should make sure they are aware of what we expect and good complaint-handling practice and, of course, the standards required by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Before the complaint comes to us

Customers must always complain to a financial business before they come to us. That gives you an opportunity to resolve the issue for your customer. If you need guidance to do that, our Business Support Hub is on hand. It helped 1,400 businesses last year, with over 10,000 enquiries about complaints.

When a customer complains, you have a duty to respond within prescribed time limits. If you don’t, or if the customer’s unhappy with your response, they can bring their complaint to us.

If businesses regularly fail to reply in time, or don’t respond to their customers, we get more cases. That prevents us from sustaining the improvements in timeliness we want to make and which you have told us you want to see. So, if you’re struggling to get back to your customers within the time limits – or if you start to see a trend in complaints that you think might have an impact on case numbers – please talk to us.

When a customer uses a CMC

The Financial Ombudsman Service is free of charge and customers can complain to us directly. We are always looking to improve so that it's easier for customers to access and use our service. However, some customers opt to be professionally represented by, for example, a claims management company (CMC).

We strongly encourage financial businesses to be open to engagement with professional representatives where they have been retained on the case. And we urge professional representatives to work with businesses and provide them with the information they need to investigate the complaint. We see good outcomes from pragmatic engagement between businesses and representatives sometimes helping to resolve things sooner between them.

Check what to send us

Whether you’re a financial services firm or a professional representative, such as a CMC, if you’re handling a complaint, you should start preparing your evidence and documentation as early as possible.

Use our website to help you prepare. We have an online tool for financial businesses that provides a way to check the information you should send to us as part of a complaint or case file. You can also refer to our website to familiarise yourself with our approach to the cases we see and find out more about the information we’ll consider and evidence we’ll expect to see if a case comes to us.

For us, this means cases are ready to assess more quickly, leading to a speedier resolution. But it also saves firms time and resource because they don’t have to keep responding to follow-up requests.

Conversely, when a business doesn’t send us everything we need – or doesn’t send it as part of the initial request for information – it slows down our investigation. So, if we don’t hear from you by a specified deadline, we may decide – or even close – a case based on the information we have.

When a business regularly fails to respond to our information requests, we may notify the regulator. So, please tell us if you can’t meet our deadlines.

Proactively settling a complaint

When we tell you we’re moving a complaint to investigation, you still have time to proactively settle with your customer if you feel, on reflection, that you want to do. To do this, you must:

  • make them an offer within 14 days, or
  • notify us that you’ll be making an offer within 21 days.

Our published decisions and guidance on making an offer to proactively settle a complaint will show you how we approach specific types of cases.

Proactively settled complaints aren’t recorded as a change in favour of the consumer in our half-yearly published data This means they don't count towards your change in outcome rate and will be recorded separately. We’re trialling this third category in our data until March 2024.

We value the cooperation of financial businesses and professional representatives in helping us to resolve cases and deliver answers at pace. So, I’d like to thank you for continuing to work with us to ensure all our customers get the timely, and good-quality service, that they deserve.