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ombudsman news

issue 64

September/October 2007

our complaints prevention and outreach work with consumers and the consumer advice sector

The work of the Financial Ombudsman Service gives us a unique insight into how and why disputes arise - and how they might be avoided in the first place. As part of our commitment to share this knowledge and experience with the outside world, we regularly take part in a variety of roadshows, exhibitions and events across the UK.

This month's ombudsman focus highlights some of the
outreach events for consumer advisers and consumers that we took part in this summer.

Whether aimed at businesses, front-line consumer advisers or consumers themselves - these events give us the opportunity to promote a realistic understanding of our role, as well as encouraging consumers and businesses to settle problems themselves and to help prevent the need for complaints in the first place.

Inverness - consumer adviser training day

In early June, several members of our external liaison team delivered a day of training to a group of front-line consumer advisers based in Inverness and the surrounding area.

Local advice agencies (such as trading standards departments, citizens advice bureaux, independent legal advice centres and money and debt advice centres) play an important part in advising consumers how best to sort out problems and proceed with complaints on a wide range of financial and money-related matters. Our research indicates that 7% of consumers first heard of the Financial Ombudsman Service from one of these agencies. It is clearly important to ensure the staff and volunteers working for these organisations are kept well-informed about our role and the service we provide.

This event, the fourth we have held in the past year specifically for consumer advisers in Scotland, was organised in partnership with Inverness Council. The training day focused first on explaining the scope and remit of the ombudsman service and helping advisers identify when they should "signpost" queries and concerns to us, rather than trying to deal with them themselves. We then explored complaints-handling itself in some detail, encouraging delegates to share experiences - good and bad - and helping them to build on their existing skills. We looked, in particular, at ways of identifying potential problems and dealing with them successfully at an early stage - to prevent them escalating into full-blown disputes.

As always at such events, participants had the opportunity to raise individual questions in a lively question-and-answer session. We also outlined the practical assistance that consumer advisers can obtain from our technical advice desk.

Manchester - Trading Standards Institute annual conference

Taking our exhibition stand to this high-profile, three-day conference, organised by the Trading Standards Institute, enabled us to meet a large number of front-line consumer advisers from council trading standards offices across the country. The event also gave us the opportunity to help raise awareness of the ombudsman service among younger consumers. This was because a centrepiece of the conference was the final of a national competition - "Young Consumers of the Year" - attended by hundreds of young people.

As we explained in issue 63 of ombudsman news (July/August 2007), younger people are just as likely to have bank accounts and some types of insurance as other age groups. Yet the number of complaints referred to us by those under the age of 25 is disproportionately low. And our research suggests that people under the age of 25 have a significantly lower level of general awareness of how to complain - and of their right to come to the ombudsman - than those in older age groups.

The series of posters and postcards we launched during the conference - designed specifically to raise awareness of the ombudsman service among younger people - proved a real hit not only with the target age group but with delegates of all ages.

Birmingham - "BBC Good Homes Live"

At "BBC Good Homes Live", held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, we met a very large number of consumers. This three-day "lifestyle" event attracted a total of over 100,000 visitors. Other exhibitors included a wide variety of retailers and financial services companies, as well as government agencies and public service providers.

Our work in resolving complaints rarely entails direct face-to-face contact with consumers - since we deal with the vast majority of cases through correspondence and over the phone.

So we find it particularly helpful to be able to interact directly with consumers at events such as this. The informal feedback we receive gives us a valuable insight into the way our service is perceived. It also helps us identify any ways in which we might usefully adapt the way we do things, in order to enhance the accessibility of our service.

Sandown Park racecourse - "Beyond Boundaries"

"Beyond Boundaries" was the first event of its kind to be held in the South of England. The organisers' aim was to promote activities, lifestyle information and careers advice specifically tailored towards people with disabilities.

A number of well-known athletes and television personalities attended as guest speakers - including Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ade Adepitan MBE. Exhibitors included disability support groups such as the Back-Up Trust (an organisation that opens the gateway to sports for those with spinal injuries) the Football Association, Canine Companions, the Department for Work and Pensions and Consumer Direct.

Over the two days of this event we attracted a large number of visitors to our stand. Many of them told us of the considerable difficulties they had encountered when dealing with financial services businesses that were unable or unwilling to meet their specific accessibility needs.

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ombudsman news issue 64 [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.