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ombudsman news

issue 42

December 2004/January 2005

ask ombudsman news

is it too late to complain? an advice agency writes ...

One of our clients has complained to a financial firm and is unhappy with the outcome, but the firm says he is too late to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service. It says this is because it sent him its final response nine months ago and that if he wanted to refer the matter to you, he should have done so within six months of getting that final response.

Our client was not aware of any time limits and the firm did not mention them when it sent the final response letter. But it says he should have known because it sent him a copy of your leaflet, "your complaint and the ombudsman". Is it true that you will not be able to consider his complaint?

In the particular circumstances of this complaint, the simple answer is "No, it’s not true". Under our rules, we cannot consider complaints referred to us more than six months after the firm sent its final response, advising the complainant of the right to refer the complaint to us. But the rules also say that we can consider complaints outside these time limits when, in our view, the failure to comply with the time limits resulted from exceptional circumstances, or where the firm has not objected to our dealing with the complaint.

The rules give examples of such exceptional circumstances and include cases where the firm’s final response letter did not tell complainants that they may refer their complaint to us, or did not say that they must do so within six months.

In your client’s case, it would seem that the firm is trying to rely on the fact that it sent him a copy of our leaflet (which mentions the six-month time limit) in order to ‘time bar’ this case. We do not consider that sending a copy of the leaflet is sufficient to alert complainants to the limit, and we will generally accept cases for consideration where a firm has failed to mention the six-month limit in the text of its final response. Firms wishing to familiarise themselves with the FCA’s rules on what information a final response should contain should refer to the glossary of definitions in the FCA handbook of rules and guidance.

"free cases" to continue -

Will you be continuing with the scheme whereby you only invoice firms for the third and any subsequent complaints against them that you get in a year-

This is the "two free cases" arrangement that we introduced at the beginning of the 2004/05 financial year. The arrangement has been broadly welcomed and it appears to be working well. In our recently-issued plan & budget for the 2005/6 financial year we have said that we propose to continue with the arrangement, allowing authorised firms two free cases in 2005/06.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news issue 42 [PDF format]

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.