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ombudsman news

issue 136

September 2016

the heart of the matter

When a consumer gets in touch with us about a problem they’re having, one of the first questions we ask is how they would want things put right.

That seems like an obvious starting point. But perhaps because it’s such a simple question, it’s easy to overlook. We sometimes find that, in trying to settle a complaint, a business has made a “standard” offer of financial compensation - without considering whether it really gets to the heart of the impact the problem has had.

For example, if a business’s mistake has left someone without the buffer of the mortgage overpayments they had made - and the peace of mind it was giving them - is it helpful to pay compensation into their current account? Or if someone’s unnecessarily had to use their overdraft, have they turned to other lending - and what are the consequences for their wider financial position?

To highlight these issues, our case studies this month illustrate the complaints that can escalate when individual circumstances are overlooked - and the wide range of ways we can put things right. And in ombudsman focus, we explain our power to tell businesses to pay interest, where someone’s missed out on money they were due.

As I’ve often pointed out, consumers generally aren’t financial experts. So although someone might have a sense that something’s not right, they might not know what’s happened from a technical point of view. Or, if they do know, worry and frustration might get in the way of articulating it clearly. Life moves quickly, and it’s likely that the longer a problem goes on, the more complicated it will become to explain it - let alone unwind it.

So getting to the heart of what’s gone wrong won’t always be easy. But consumers are relying on financial businesses to do just that - and to treat them fairly in the process. Remembering to ask that simple initial question - and really getting to grips with the answer - is the essential first step in helping everyone move on.

Caroline Wayman

Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

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.