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ombudsman news

issue 21

October 2002

welcome to credit unions

We are now able to deal with complaints about credit unions in Great Britain (but not in Northern Ireland), as long as the complaints concern events that took place from 2 July 2002.

The procedures and time limits in the Financial Services Authority's complaint-handling rules apply to credit unions for the first time, and may represent some new challenges for them, since most credit unions are run by volunteers on a part-time basis.

We have engaged in a helpful dialogue with credit union organisations to help ensure that we - and they - are ready for cases when they come through. We have attended two credit union conferences already, and run workshops. Another two credit union conferences are already in our diary.

We have also trained up some specialist casehandlers and an ombudsman to deal with credit union cases. They are aware of the special characteristics of credit unions and their relationship with their members. They will not judge credit unions against standards of service inconsistent with what members can reasonably expect, having regard to the credit union's resources and organisation.

Credit unions will find lots of information in ombudsman news about how we operate. This website also contains much helpful material including, for example, a briefing about how we approach compensation for distress and inconvenience. And credit unions are always welcome to call our technical advice desk on 020 7964 1400 or email

Consistency in the terms we use is very important, as credit unions will discover. Like the Financial Services Authority - when we refer to "firms", that includes credit unions. And our documents and correspondence will refer to "customers" rather than members, because we deal only with their customer rights, as depositors or borrowers - not their rights as members (such as issues relating to election of officials).

We are aware that some credit unions may initially see the new arrangements as burdensome. But we hope they will soon come to recognise, as others have already done, that they bring considerable advantages. The existence of independent complaint-handling arrangements helps underpin consumer confidence - and can bring finality to disputes so they don't continue to rumble on.

Walter Merricks, 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.