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ombudsman news

issue 25

February 2003

ask ombudsman news - your questions answered

must I "exhaust" the firm's procedures before coming to the ombudsman-

I have a complaint about my savings account. But the firm's complaints procedure seems very long and complex. There are four separate stages, starting with my local branch and ending up at the head office and the firm's chief executive. The firm says I have to "exhaust" this procedure and get a "deadlock letter" before I come to the ombudsman. Is this true-

Before we can look at your complaint, you must have given the firm the chance to resolve the matter. Under the complaints-handling rules of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), a firm has a maximum of eight weeks to try and resolve a complaint unless, for special reasons, the FSA has given it a special waiver to extend the time limit.

This time limit applies no matter how many stages a firm has in its own complaints-handling process. After eight weeks, consumers have the automatic right to bring the complaint to us if they do not want to allow the firm any more time. They do not have to wait for a "deadlock letter" from the firm before doing this.

Under the FSA rules, a firm must tell its customers of their right to take their complaint to the ombudsman. It must do this either when it sends its "final response" (a formal letter setting out the outcome of the complaint) or eight weeks after it received the complaint, if it has not yet been able to send a "final response" (and has therefore "run out of time").

Exceptionally, if in our view there was a good reason why the firm could not deal with the complaint straight away, we might decide to allow the firm more time before we become involved.

can I get a copy of the rules that the ombudsman service follows-

Where I can obtain a copy of the Terms of Reference under which the ombudsman service operates-

The Financial Ombudsman Service doesn't have Terms of Reference, as such. We operate under rules set down by the Financial Services Authority (FSA). You will find details of our jurisdiction and procedures in the "complaints sourcebook" which forms a part of the FSA's Handbook of rules and guidance. Chapter 2 sets out our jurisdiction and Chapter 3 sets out our complaints-handling procedures.

You can access the "complaints sourcebook" via the FSA's website at

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.