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ombudsman news


featuring questions raised recently with our free, expert helpline for businesses and advice workers

frivolous and vexatious - so no referral, right?

I'm a mortgage broker and I've received a complaint from a former customer (via a claims company) about PPI linked to a mortgage. I have never sold PPI. Because this is a frivolous and vexatious complaint, when I write back I don't have to tell them about the ombudsman service, do I?

Because your business is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, it's covered by their complaints-handling rules - sometimes called the "DISP rules". These rules set out the procedures and requirements that businesses must follow when they're handling complaints from their customers.

The rules say that even when you feel that the complaint has no merit, you still have to give a final response within eight weeks - and tell the consumer that they can come to the ombudsman service if they are still unhappy.

The ombudsman service has the power to dismiss a complaint as "frivolous" or "vexatious" - which basically means that we shouldn't be looking into it. But it would be up to us to decide whether this particular complaint fell into that category - and only if the consumer went on to refer it to us.

packaged account problems

Our customer isn't happy about the monthly £6 fee that he's been paying for his current account. Our records show that his account was upgraded in 2008 to include benefits like mobile phone insurance and digital music downloads, but the consumer says he didn't ask for the upgrade. Unfortunately, we only have contact notes for the last three years, so we don't have firm evidence that we spoke to him. Would the ombudsman say that we should refund all the monthly fees going back to 2008?

Our adjudicators listen to both sides of the story - and ask both sides lots of questions. So the conclusions they come to are based on all of the available evidence, not just one particular set of records.

In this case we might, for example, ask the consumer if he had been receiving statements to see whether he could have noticed the charge sooner.

We could also ask the business whether the consumer regularly signs into his online banking account - which would give him another chance to see the charges and query them. We might also ask the business whether the consumer had used any of the benefits included in his account.

In some cases our adjudicators will suggest an outcome that isn't exactly what either party wants, but is fair in the circumstances. For example, in a case like this, a partial refund of the fees might be the right result.

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ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.