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annual review 2000/2001

dealing with complaints at the early stages

The Financial Ombudsman Service handles consumers' complaints which financial firms have not been able to resolve themselves. Our message to consumers is that they should always take their complaint to the firm first. This gives the firm the opportunity to put things right at the earliest opportunity. Most complaints are the result of misunderstandings or simple administrative errors and can usually be resolved without the involvement of the ombudsman service.

However, even at this early stage consumers and firms often look for guidance about the complaints procedure. Consumers bring their problems to the ombudsman service before they have complained to the firm; complaints are made about matters which need to be dealt with by other authorities; and many people want help in identifying the nature of their problem - knowing whether they have a complaint or not.

This all means that a significant part of our work involves providing clear "signposts" for the public - helping people to get their complaints resolved as effectively as possible at the earliest stage. This work is carried out within the Financial Ombudsman Service by our customer contact division.

providing a central "entry point" for all new complaints and enquiries

Our customer contact division provides a "single point of entry" for all enquiries about the ombudsman service. The division provides general advice and guidance for consumers on what to do if they are not happy with a financial product or service.

In addition to providing general information and guidance, the customer contact division also gets involved at the initial stages of the ombudsman process - actively looking for opportunities to resolve complaints, so that they do not turn into full-scale disputes requiring ombudsman investigation. And for those complaints where a more detailed investigation is required, the division acts as a "gateway" to the case-handling and dispute-resolution services provided by the Financial Ombudsman Service's casework divisions.

Actively seeking ways to resolve complaints during the consumer's initial approach to the customer contact division is a new feature of the ombudsman service. To carry out this role effectively, the division's staff - the majority of whom previously worked at one of the former complaints-handling schemes - are undergoing a programme of extensive skills and knowledge training.

During the year ended 31 March 2001 the customer contact division recorded a significant increase in consumer demand for its services. The division is currently handling an average of 5,000 phone calls each week - a 50% increase compared with the same period in the previous year and a 150% increase on the year before that.

The decision to install modern call-management technology in the division has increased our capacity to deal more efficiently with larger volumes of calls than could previously have been dealt with by the separate schemes. This has also resulted in a much lower rate of "abandoned" calls (less than 3% of total calls throughout the year) than at the previous schemes - and has enabled us to answer 85% of calls within 20 seconds (our performance benchmark).

initial customer contacts by phone and in writing
year ended
31 March 2001
year ended
31 March 2000*
percentage change
phone enquiries
written enquiries
total "cases" transferred to a casework division
*Enquiries during the year ended 31 March 2000 where handled by the separate ombudsman schemes and complaints-handling organisations, before they came together under one roof as the Financial Ombudsman Service. The schemes used different methods for recording statistics at this time, so the figures are show here are necessarily estimated.
image: consumer factsheets

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board members of the Financial Ombudsman Service

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the structure within the Financial Ombudsman Service