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annual review 2014/2015

1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015

the complaints we received

our consumer helpline

Every year we receive millions of enquiries from consumers. But not everyone who contacts us is ready to make a complaint. And it’s clear that, while some people feel something’s unfair, they’re struggling to articulate the problem.

By addressing people’s questions early on, in many cases we can avoid a “formal” complaint being referred to us - or to the business concerned. The types of early answers and reassurance we give include:

  • Where people are simply unsure about financial paperwork or processes, giving a jargon-free explanation to put their mind at rest.
  • Explaining how to get started with a complaint - confirming a particular business’s contact details, and when we can “formally” step in.
  • Talking things through with people who feel intimidated by the formal process of complaining - and if they want us to, contacting the business for them to get things started.
  • Clarifying the role of the ombudsman - and the difference between us and the regulator.
  • Giving people the knowledge they need so they can take things forward themselves - including directing them to our website or other online information.
  • Offering practical suggestions about how to sort things out with the business.
  • Helping people understand any offer they’ve been made - and giving an impartial steer on whether it seems fair.
  • Explaining the rules that currently apply to complaining - for example, around time limits.
  • Identifying what wider support someone might need - and where we can’t help, suggesting other organisations or ombudsman schemes who might be able to.

Our research suggests that the primary reason that people decide not to pursue a complaint is because they feel it would be too stressful. But we also know from feedback that just telling someone else about a problem - and talking things through - can give people the confidence they need, to sort things out.

Every year our consumer helpline replies to millions of enquiries by phone, email and “traditional” post - reflecting the diversity of people’s lifestyles, needs and preferences. This means that each working day, we replied to around 5,000 phone calls, letters and emails from consumers.

While enquiries to our helpline continued at the high levels we’ve seen over the past few years, we did see a slight decrease overall this year. This reflects the fact that, rather than phoning our helpline, people are now using a number of different channels to contact us - like social media and webchat. And the rise in the number of visitors to our website increased this year suggests that many people prefer to look for information themselves - instead of asking us directly.

how people who contacted our consumer helpline first heard about us

  • 25% on the internet
  • 24% from a friend, relative or colleague
  • 21% from a financial business
  • 16% in the media
  • 10% from a consumer advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice)
  • 3% from a claims-management company
  • 1% other and "don't know"

We ask people who contact our helpline how they heard about us - so we can understand where we may need to focus our awareness-raising work. This year we found that people were most likely to have heard about us on the internet - or from a friend, relative or colleague. But slightly fewer people said they’d heard about us from a business.

There’s more information about how consumers find out about us in the chapter who complained to us.

initial enquiries and complaints from consumers

year ended
31 March
phone enquiries written enquiries
(including by email)
total enquiries
2015 927,737 859,236 1,786,973
2014 1,150,002 1,207,372 2,357,374
2013 1,067,607 1,093,832 2,161,439
2012 673,999 594,799 1,268,798
2011 461,613 550,758 1,012,371
2010 448,140 476,955 925,095
2009 399,918 389,959 789,877

It’s extremely important that people can reach us when they need to. Not only can talking things through make a situation feel less stressful, but our research shows that our early involvement can be a key factor in preventing a “formal” complaint. This year 95% of the 35,000 people we asked said it had been easy to find out how to contact us.

the numbers that people used to contact our helpline

  • 61% used 0800 023 4567 the most
  • 33% used 0300 123 9 123 the most
  • 6% used 0845 080 1800 the most

We offer three different numbers for consumers to use to call our helpline. We have three numbers because numbers that are low-cost or free from all types of phone contract have only gradually become available over the years.

The proportion of people phoning our 0800 number remained steady this year. This number is usually free to call from a landline - and six in ten of the people we spoke to had phoned us from it.

As we mentioned in last year’s annual review, the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, is expected to make all calls to 0800 numbers - including calls from mobiles - free from July 2015. So we may see an increase in calls to this number in future.

At the moment, our 0300 number is less expensive for mobile phone users, and free on many tariffs. Over the year calls to this number increased slightly - alongside the number of calls we received from mobiles.

When we launched our free 0800 number five years ago, we stopped promoting our 0845 number - an older type of “non-geographic” number. Calls to this number fell by a third to 6% this year. We continue to remind organisations who are still giving it out to update their records - so consumers don’t run up unnecessary costs.

the time of day consumers phoned us

  • 11% between 8am and 10am
  • 24% between 10am and midday
  • 22% between midday and 2pm
  • 23% between 2pm and 4pm
  • 15% between 4pm and 6pm
  • 3% between 6pm and 8pm
  • 2% Saturday morning

We recognise that people’s lives and livelihoods are increasingly varied - and part of providing an accessible service is being available for our customers at a time that’s convenient for them. Over the years, we’ve increased the opening hours of our consumer helpline - from traditional “office” hours, to 8am until 8pm on weekdays, and then again to include Saturdays until 1pm.

Being mentioned on television or the radio can cause sudden sharp increase in calls - as people realise they could have a problem and want to ask us about it straight away. To give us the flexibility to handle fluctuations in call volumes, we use call-centre planning tools. And at the busiest times, we make sure as many of our staff as possible are dealing with phone calls - rather than written enquiries.

While the busiest time of the day can be hard to predict, we generally receive the most calls on Mondays between 10am and 12 midday. This year we received up to 525 phone calls an hour at this time. It’s possible that Mondays are generally the busiest days because people use the weekend to think about their problem and sort out all their facts and paperwork.

… we received 4,071 phone calls on our busiest day

Monday 2 February 2015 was the busiest day for our helpline this year - following significant media interest over the weekend around how some businesses had been offering redress for mis-sold PPI. We received 4,071 phone calls alone that day - alongside post and email enquiries.

In contrast, the quietest time was the last two weeks in December. While it’s understandable that many people wouldn’t want to get involved in a complaint over Christmas, our website was still visited by more than 1,400 people on Christmas Day 2014.

how people phoned our consumer helpline

  • 73% from a landline phone
  • 21% from a mobile phone
  • 3% from an overseas or untraceable phone
  • 3% calls made over the internet

There was a 17% increase in calls to our consumer helpline from mobiles this year - reflecting the fact that a growing number of people don’t use, or even have, a landline phone for social or business purposes.

2,567 calls were from people using a payphone - a fifth less than last year. But this still suggests that a number of people either don’t have their own phone or feel they need the privacy of a phone box to talk about their problem.

… 2,567 people called us from payphones

On the other hand, calls made over the internet - through services like Skype and online messaging - increased by a third this year to 26,760. Ofcom has reported that the average UK adult spends almost nine hours a day online - so it’s not surprising that this is reflected in how people contact us.

the length of calls to our consumer helpline

  • under 3 minutes: 29%
  • between 3 and 5 minutes: 16%
  • between 5 and 10 minutes: 25%
  • between 10 and 15 minutes: 18%
  • between 15 and 20 minutes: 6%
  • over 20 minutes: 6%

Many of the people who we speak with have already spent a long time on the phone with the business involved trying to sort out their problem. For some people, this experience is part of the reason they want to make a complaint. So it’s important that we deal with enquiries as efficiently as we can - to avoid adding to an already stressful situation.

We aim to answer 80% of phone calls to our consumer helpline within 20 seconds. This is a widely-accepted standard for organisations receiving the volume of calls that we do.

Looking only at calls about PPI, we answered 84% of these within 20 seconds - up from 76% in the previous year. And we answered 79% of calls about everything other than PPI within 20 seconds.

86% of 35,000 consumers we surveyed over the year said they felt we answered their calls promptly.

This year the majority of our calls lasted under three minutes - reflecting the fact that many people are phoning us for simple tips to help them get started, like who they need to complain to. We can quickly provide these details - so the consumer can move things forward themselves.

But other people call with more complex situations to discuss. Our front-line staff are experts in tailoring the way they communicate - letting the person who’s calling say everything they need to, while asking the right questions to fully understand the whole picture. This is important - as we sometimes find that there’s a far a bigger issue underlying a simple initial question.

what consumers phoned our helpline about

PPI 21
loans and credit 13
car and motorbike insurance 7
current accounts 7
other insurance - including travel insurance, mobile phone cover, warranties and home emergency cover 4
credit cards 3
household insurance 3
mortgages 3
other banking services 5
mortgage endowments 1
other financial products 7
other problems and concerns that people don't know where else to take (for example, debt-related worries and confusion about what to do if something goes wrong) 25

When you first phone an organisation, being confronted with long lists of options can be frustrating. But as we cover an increasing number of products and services, we need to get people’s calls to someone with the right knowledge to answer their question. So we ask callers to our helpline to choose one of four simple options to give us a general idea of what their call is about.

During the year our helpline continued to receive a large number of enquiries about PPI. But these made up a lower proportion of all the enquiries we received compared with last year. The relative proportions of enquiries about all other financial products remained broadly similar to previous years.

The types of enquiry that we did see more of this year were ones that didn’t fit into any particular category of financial product or service. Instead, many of these calls were from people who weren’t yet ready to make a formal complaint - but who were confused or frustrated about something they’d experienced.

As we explained earlier in this chapter, even clarifying jargon or talking through paperwork can be enough to stop a question escalating into a complaint. And by letting people explain how they’re feeling and why, we can identify any support they need that we can’t offer - and put them in touch with charities, public services and other ombudsmen who can help.

the value of our early involvement

As we explained earlier in this chapter, talking to us early on can save people the time, stress and inconvenience of having to make a formal complaint. We carry out research each year to make sure our early involvement is effective - and valued by the people who relied on us for an answer. This year we found that:

Nine in ten people who contacted our helpline said we’d clearly explained what would happen next with their complaint.

85% said they were happy we’d shown an interest in their enquiry - with many people telling us they felt they’d been “fobbed off” by other organisations.
Three quarters felt that the first person they spoke to here actually knew enough to answer their questions.

In 2014/2015 only around one in five potential complaints initially raised with our consumer helpline went on to become a formal complaint. So we can make sure our early involvement continues to be helpful, it’s important that we find out what happened to consumers who didn’t ask us to step in again later down the line.

Our latest research shows that half of consumers who phoned our helpline - but didn’t make a “formal” complaint to us - resolved their problem themselves. 99% of these consumers told us that our early involvement had helped them to do this. Of the half of consumers who hadn’t sorted out their problem, another half said they were still talking to the business - and might ask us to step in if this didn’t work.

But this still left some consumers who told us that they’d decided not to pursue their complaint any further - in most cases because they felt it would be too stressful. We explain the work we do to find out about people’s attitudes to complaining - including the reasons they might choose not to complain - in the chapter who complained to us.

contact through our website

During the year an increasing number of consumers got in touch with us through our website. People have been able to download a complaint form and email it to us for many years. But in January 2015 - after a period of testing and feedback - we also introduced an online version of our complaint form so that people can send us their details instantly.

So far, approaching 10,000 people have already referred their complaint to us online. We continue to gather feedback from people who have used our form already - to improve it and make sure it’s easy to use.

We explained in last year’s annual review that we had been offering a sample of visitors to our website the choice to talk to us through webchat. Many of these people told us that they liked this discreet, informal option - and 2014/2015 was the first year that all visitors to our website could contact us this way. We explain later in this chapter why we think webchat is particularly suited to sorting out payday loan problems.

We recognise that not everyone wants to talk things through with us - and instead might want to try to answer their question themselves. So this year we continued to update our website with tips, case studies and in-depth guidance about a range of money matters.

During the year more than 13,000 people visited our website each day. Weekdays between 12 noon and 1pm continue to be our busiest times.

… our annual review was downloaded nearly a quarter of a million times in May 2014

The page where people can download our complaint form and PPI questionnaire continues to be one of the most visited parts of our website. This year people downloaded a total of 467,882 complaint forms and 960,803 PPI questionnaires. And our annual review was downloaded nearly a quarter of a million times during May 2014 alone.

Other most-visited parts of our website included our guidance about “how to complain” (as well as how to complain about PPI), our contact details and our careers page.

the words most searched for on our website

bank charges | can’t afford loan | credit card debt | pension complaint | mortgage | PPI compensation| ombudsman news | payment plan | debt help | free phone| contact number

There is more information about our website - and who visits it - in the chapter who complained to us.

reaching everyone who needs us

We know from experience that certain groups of people are less likely to complain than others - either to us or to the business involved. And while the people who contact our consumer helpline broadly reflect the population as a whole, some groups of consumers are less likely than others to take their complaint any further.

In particular, we know that younger people and people from lower income groups are generally less likely to go on and make a formal complaint after they’ve been in touch with us. We explain more about the research we do to find out why this might be in the chapter who complained to us.

As a service for everyone in the UK, we need to identify and remove any barriers there might be to using us. So we continually review the ways we engage with people - to make sure we’re reaching everyone who needs us, and in a way that suits them.

For example, we know that some people are nervous about phoning us directly. But they may be more comfortable if they have someone else to support them - such as a trusted adviser in their local community. If this is the case, we can hold a three-way call between a consumer, an adviser and our helpline.

While most people are comfortable with talking to us directly, it’s important that we offer a range of channels for doing so - for people to contact us in a way that suits their individual lifestyles, circumstances and commitments.

As we explained earlier in this chapter, following a successful trial we began using webchat more widely this year. In particular, we found it was an effective way of sorting out people’s concerns and complaints about payday loans.

Given that these types of loans can be put into people’s bank accounts within hours, it’s understandable that the current timeframes for complaining formally can feel inappropriate. But more importantly, many people who contact us with payday loan problems are already in financial hardship. So aside from simply being frustrating, waiting a matter of weeks could have very serious consequences - and in the worst cases leave people without enough money to live on.

… we've been increasingly working with businesses to sort out payday lending complaints over the phone

For these reasons, we’ve been increasingly working with the businesses involved to sort out payday lending complaints over the phone - rather than by exchanging documents by post and email, which can take a long time.

And in a fifth of all the complaints we received about payday loans this year, we were able to quickly sort out the problem with the consumer using webchat alone. Many people we spoke with told us that they were very embarrassed about getting into financial troubles - and appreciated this discreet way of contacting us.

We continued to engage with consumers on social media this year.

For example, we ran a Twitter day with StepChange and the Money Advice Service - answering consumers’ questions and concerns about payday loans and giving practical tips for sorting out money problems. There is more information about other ways we use social media in the chapter who complained to us.

We also recognise that some people trust other consumers more than “official” organisations - and prefer to find information they need by asking questions within their online communities. So we work with some of the popular online money forums - to make sure we understand what’s worrying people and so we can to answer any unresolved questions.

We know that not all problems are suited to these informal channels - particularly those that are very complex and require a detailed investigation. But consumers’ feedback suggests that many people feel more comfortable dealing with problems informally.

meeting people’s individual needs

We always try to make using our service as easy as possible - by minimising “procedure” and paperwork. But some people who contact us still feel very nervous or unsure about making a complaint - and may have particular needs that contribute to this. In these situations, one of our specially-trained casework advisers can help the consumer through the process of using our service.

The following case studies describe the extra support we can give - and how we can tailor our service to people’s individual needs and circumstances.

not getting anywhere

Mark got in touch with us after his car had been stolen. After talking things through, we established that he was having trouble talking to the insurance company - because he had a mental health condition that meant he often became anxious in unfamiliar or stressful situations, like when talking to people he didn’t know.

We asked Mark if he would like us to speak to someone he trusted, rather than speaking to him directly - so he wouldn’t experience the same anxiety. He said he would prefer to try to deal with things himself. So instead, we talked about how we could make the things easier for him.

We agreed with Mark that he would give us a sign whenever talking to us was becoming too much - so we would know to stop the conversation for the time being.

stranded at home

Brian had broken his tablet computer by dropping it on his kitchen floor. He’d tried to make a claim on his home insurance - but had been told by his insurer that his policy didn’t cover accidental damage like this.

Brian told our adjudicator that he thought he’d paid extra for the additional cover. He told us that he was living with head injuries and was housebound - and relied on his tablet computer to make care arrangements, do his shopping, and keep in contact with friends and family. Without it, he was feeling extremely isolated and stressed.

The insurer was insistent that they didn’t have any records of Brian having the extra cover. Recognising the impact the problem was having on Brian - and the importance of resolving it very quickly - the adjudicator arranged for an ombudsman to get involved straight away.

Together, the adjudicator and ombudsman established that Brian hadn’t been given clear enough information about the cover he was buying. The adjudicator immediately rang the insurer to explain the decision - and the insurer arranged for Brian’s tablet to be replaced the next day.

other formats and languages

We can adapt the way we communicate with people by using a range of different formats and languages, including:

  • An instant over-the-phone interpreting service to talk to people in languages other than English.
  • Software that allows our website to be translated into 72 written and 52 spoken languages.
  • Online video and audio information for people who prefer these formats to text.
  • Text Relay services and British Sign Language videos.
  • An instant online British Sign Language interpreting service to take calls from BSL users.
  • Information in alternative formats such as large print, Braille and CD.
  • Simplified text versions of all of our letters and factsheets for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Financial services providers in the UK are increasingly international - and have customers all over the world. Reflecting this, each year we receive a significant number of complaints from people living overseas - as well as in the UK - whose first language isn’t English. In total, we communicated in 54 languages other than English in 4,127 cases.

languages we worked in other than English and Welsh

languages we worked in other than English and Welsh %
Polish 24.5
Chinese 8
French 8
Spanish 6.5
Turkish 6
Portuguese 5
Urdu 4.5
Bengali 4
German 4
Italian 4
Punjabi 3.5
Russian 2
other European languages 1.5
other languages 18.5

new complaints referred to our casework teams

We work closely with businesses to help them to deal with complaints fairly and thoughtfully - considering the impact of what’s happened for each individual customer. In the chapter our insight and outreach, we explain how we support businesses to resolve problems without our formal involvement.

But businesses and consumers can’t always sort things out between themselves. Under the regulator’s rules, businesses have eight weeks to respond once a consumer has said that they’re unhappy. And if the consumer doesn’t feel the business has put things right fairly, they can refer the complaint to us.

Consumers can also ask us to step in if eight weeks have passed and they haven’t received a final response. In 11% of the complaints we took on formally during the year, the businesses involved hadn’t given a final response within eight weeks. This figure has improved again - from 12% last year.

% of cases where the business had not sent their customer a final response within eight weeks

year ended 31 March %
2015 11
2014 12
2013 16
2012 37
2011 40

We explain earlier in this chapter how, with the cooperation of businesses, we’re working increasingly flexibly - to sort out problems more quickly than the timeframes set out in the complaints-handling rules.

Under these rules, businesses are required to include our consumer leaflet, your complaint and the ombudsman, with their final response letter. This year 21% of people who contacted our consumer helpline said they heard about the ombudsman service from the business they complained to.

Over the year we distributed more than a million copies of our leaflet. We charge businesses for bulk supplies - but they can print it themselves under a licence from us. We provide copies free of charge to consumer advice agencies, libraries and community centres - in a wide range of languages and formats to meet the needs of different communities.

We continue to review our consumer leaflet - to make sure its design and content make our independent role clear. And disability experts Shaw Trust support us in making sure our leaflet remains accessible.

number of new complaints

year ended 31 March number of new cases
2015 329,509
2014 512,167
2013 508,881
2012 264,375
2011 206,121
2010 163,012
2009 127,471
2008 123,089
2007 94,392
2006 112,923
2005 110,963

Many people are able to sort out their problem themselves after contacting our consumer helpline. But some people who contact us have already tried unsuccessfully to resolve things - and now want us to step in more formally.

When a consumer asks us to look into their complaint, we ask them to fill out our complaint form - to give us a few personal and practical details, and to help us understand what’s happened. Consumers can:

  • give us their details over the phone so we can help fill out the form
  • send us their details directly through our website
  • download the form from our website and send it back to us.

Once we have these details - and have checked the complaint is something we cover - our helpline can pass the complaint to our casework teams for investigation. In 2014/2015 our consumer helpline passed on 329,509 new complaints - out of the 1,786,973 initial enquiries they received.

As we expected, we received fewer complaints about PPI this year - 204,943 altogether.

Other trends we saw this year included:

  • An increase in the number of complaints about payday loans (up 46%) - and a four-fold increase in the number of complaints about “packaged” bank accounts.
  • An increase in credit-broking (up 87%) and debt collecting (up 51%)
  • Fewer complaints about credit cards (down 19%)
  • Complaints about investments and insurance remaining at broadly similar levels to the last two years.

the most complained-about financial products since we were set up

payment protection insurance (PPI) 48
mortgage endowments 11
bank and credit card charges 2
other financial products 39

Since we were set up in 2000 consumers have referred a total of 2,787,652 cases to us - of which 61% have involved just three issues: mortgage endowments, bank and credit card charges, and PPI.

how PPI complaints were brought to us

complaints made on behalf of consumers by commercial claims-management companies 79
complaints made by consumers themselves 18
complaints made on behalf of consumers by professionals (eg lawyers and accountants) 1
complaints made on behalf of consumers by friends and family 1
complaints made on behalf of consumers by free consumer advice agencies (eg Trading Standards and Citizens Advice) 1
complaints made by smaller businesses 0

how complaints other than PPI were brought to us

complaints made by consumers themselves 72
complaints made on behalf of consumers by claims-management companies 17
complaints made on behalf of consumers by friends and family 6
complaints made by smaller businesses 3
complaints made on behalf of consumers by free consumer advice agencies (eg Trading Standards and Citizens Advice) 2
complaints made on behalf of consumers by professionals (eg lawyers and accountants) 0

When looking at complaints about everything except PPI, more than seven in ten cases were brought by consumers themselves. In a small number of cases consumers were represented for free by someone they knew - for example, a friend or family member, or a representative from a local charity or Citizens Advice.

types of complaint referred by claims-management companies

PPI 88.5
packaged bank accounts 8.5
credit card complaints 1
other types of complaint (including investments, current accounts and mortgages) 2

The proportion of complaints brought to us by claims managers increased during 2014/2015. This reflects the fact that claims managers continue to advertise their services aggressively in some areas - particularly PPI and packaged bank accounts.

Ten claims-management companies accounted for 47% of complaints where consumers were represented by claims managers. The other 53% of cases involved around 500 other claims-management companies.

% of PPI cases referred by claims-management companies

year ended 31 March %
2015 79
2014 72
2013 57
2012 69
2011 76

79% of the 204,943 new PPI cases during the year were brought by claims-management companies (72% during the previous year).

We tell consumers that using a claims manager won’t give them a better chance of “winning” their complaint - and is likely to significantly reduce any compensation they receive.

However, we recognise that some people prefer to pay someone to complain for them. So we continue to work with claims-management companies to make sure they follow our approach and don’t refer cases to us unnecessarily.

As we explain in the chapter our insight and outreach, we share information about claims managers’ poor practice with the Claims Management Regulator, part of the Ministry of Justice. And since January 2015, consumers who are unhappy with the service they’ve received from a claims manager can complain to the Legal Ombudsman.

complaints from smaller businesses

complaints from smaller businesses %
banking complaints 70
insurance complaints (excluding PPI) 17
investment complaints 7

We can look into complaints made by small businesses that fall into the European Union’s definition of a “micro-enterprise” - a business with an annual turnover of up to two million euros and fewer than ten employees.

The number of complaints we received from smaller businesses has continued at similar levels - with 4,547 cases being referred to us during the year.

We know that sole traders and business owners don’t always register their complaint as a business dispute - perhaps feeling that the issues are personal rather than commercial. Once again this year, the proportion of individual consumers who told us they were self-employed or ran their own business - 13% - was far higher than the 1% of complaints that were “formally” made as business disputes. So the number of smaller businesses complaining to us may actually be significantly higher.

… small business owners don't always register their complaint as a business dispute

Smaller businesses continued to complain to us about a number of different products and services this year. These included:

  • 253 complaints about business protection.
  • 225 complaints about interest-rate hedging products sold by banks.
  • 287 complaints about commercial property insurance.

As part of our outreach work with smaller businesses, we raise awareness of the disputes they can refer to us - and not just the complaints we could receive about them. Over the year we worked with trade associations and business networks - including our own smaller businesses forum - and featured in a wide range of specialist “business-to-business” publications.

annual review 2014

annual review 2014/2015

And if you can't quite make it through all 176 pages - you can see all the highlights in this handy 3 minute video.