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ombudsman news

issue 131

January/February 2016

My client's complaint doesn't involve much money. But I think it's more about the principle. What do you suggest?

If we feel that something's gone wrong, our starting point is to look at what would otherwise have happened. And this may not even involve financial compensation. In fact, around one fifth of all the problems we hear about are put right without money - for example, by getting someone's credit file corrected, or simply by helping someone understand a complex technical issue.

Recognising the wider impact of when something's gone wrong makes the difference between tick-box compliance and really good customer service.

I work in a community advice centre and one of my clients is having problems with bailiffs. Is this something the ombudsman can help with?

There can be confusion about the difference between bailiffs and debt collectors. When someone hears from a bailiff, it's generally because they owe things like council tax, energy bills or rent. These aren't related to financial services - so we're not the right people to help.

On the other hand, if your client's debt relates to financial services - for example, if they've taken out a loan, bought furniture on finance or a car on hire-purchase - it may be a debt collector they've heard from. If it is, we should be able to look into the problem.

Otherwise, your client needs to complain to the organisation they owe money to - such as their local council. If this doesn't resolve the problem, a different ombudsman may be able to help - for example, the local government ombudsman.

You've recently been in touch asking if I'll consent to your looking into a complaint against my business. We rarely have complaints referred to you - and I'm sure that didn't happen last time. Is this new?

You'll already know there's a six-month time limit for your customers to bring their complaints to us once you've given your final response.

This limit hasn't changed. But some of the rules around it altered from 9 July 2015, when an EU directive on complaint handling came into force. Before that date, we'd look into a complaint brought to us by your customer after six months unless you objected. But now, you'll need to give your consent in these cases.

The "DISP" rules - in the FCA's handbook - give some model wording that businesses have been using in their final responses since 9 July 2015. Of course, some final responses we're still receiving will have been dated before then - and we'll need to go back to the business to check in these cases.

Many businesses are happy for us to look into complaints even when they're technically too late. By showing that you want to listen to your customer and help them with their concerns - we believe you can stop a relationship breaking down.

And we can look into a complaint that's been referred to us after six months if there have been exceptional reasons - like serious illness - why someone hasn't been able to get in touch over that period.

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.