The complaints-handling rules set time limits for consumers to refer complaints to the ombudsman. After these time limits have expired, we will need the business's consent to look into a complaint.
Generally, these time limits are:
- six months from the business sending the consumer a final response (which has to mention the six-month time limit); and
- six years from the event the consumer is complaining about (or - if later - three years from when the consumer knew, or could reasonably have known, they had cause to complain).
Special rules on time limits apply to mortgage endowment complaints.
Under the rules, we have the discretion to look at complaints that fall outside these time limits in "exceptional circumstances". An example of this might be if the consumer was incapacitated during the period when they could have complained.
We can also look at a complaint that falls outside these limits where the business agrees to it. Some businesses are happy for the ombudsman to consider all complaints made against them, even if the consumer has missed the official time limits.
A business must say in their final response letter to the consumer whether they agree or not to us looking into the complaint if it's outside of the six month time limit. And once they've decided, they won't be able to change their mind later on.
For the purposes of applying time limits, the date a complaint is referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service is taken as the date the consumer contacts us and indicates that they want the ombudsman to consider the matter - as long as their complaint is at the stage where we can consider it.
For most complaints about payment services, this will be after 15 days – or 35 days in exceptional circumstances. For any other complaints, the business has up to eight weeks in which to resolve a complaint. See DISP 1.6 for more information.