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ombudsman news

issue 130

November/December 2015

One of my community centre’s clients has exhausted all avenues with her bank, but she’s reluctant to take things further. Mainly, she thinks she won’t use the right words to get her case taken seriously. Could that be a problem?

There are commercial claims companies eager to complain on people’s behalf in all walks of life. This could give the impression that you need to pay to bring a “case” to an organisation like ours.

Although we know some people look for the convenience of having their complaint “managed” by a claims manager, we’ve always been very clear there’s no need. When someone contacts us, our role is to get underneath what people are telling us to find out what’s happened. Hearing people describe their problem in their own words is by far the best way for us to understand what’s gone on and the impact it’s had. Jargon and legalese just get in the way - and is often just another layer we have to unpick to get to the truth.

Apart from complaints about PPI - where many people took action after being contacted by a claims manager - seven in ten people who contacted us last year did so themselves. And another 10% asked someone to help them for free - like a friend, family member or community adviser. If your client’s very nervous, we can talk to you on their behalf.

My customer’s referred a complaint to you - my first in ten years. I so rarely trouble the ombudsman, but all the same I’m facing a case fee - win or lose. How is that fair?

A case fee applies whatever the outcome of a complaint - to reflect the work we’ve spent looking into and resolving the problem. Even if we decide a business hasn’t acted unfairly, that doesn’t necessarily mean a complaint is “frivolous” or shouldn’t be charged for. Where a complaint isn’t upheld, customers of businesses may still be concerned, angry or anxious. And our role is to help them better understand what’s happened and rebuild trust in the relationship.

But you’re unlikely to pay a case fee anyway. That’s because we’ve made sure our funding arrangements recognise - as you’ve pointed out - the tiny share of the workload smaller businesses like yours are responsible for. So we don’t charge for the first 25 complaints each year. This means 95% of businesses whose customers complained to us paid no case fees at all last year. Because smaller businesses have less direct contact with us in general - as they have fewer complaints - there are other ways you can keep in touch with us. Just using our free technical advice desk to talk through a tricky situation can often help nip a potential complaint in the bud. We also hope the case studies in ombudsman news help prevent similar problems.

ombudsman news

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.