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ombudsman news

issue 66

December 2007 / January 2008

ombudsman focus: getting the facts right

This month's ombudsman focus looks at some of the many different types of facts and figures we often need to have at our fingertips when resolving disputes - and how we obtain this information.

In order to resolve the many different types of financial disputes that are referred to the ombudsman service, our ombudsmen and adjudicators clearly need a considerable amount of technical knowledge and expertise in their specialist subject area (such as pensions, mortgages, banking or insurance).

For each individual complaint, our case-handling staff consider carefully all the information - and supporting documentation - provided by each party to the dispute, both when the dispute is first referred to us and in response to our subsequent questions.

But in many cases our staff will also need to obtain or confirm additional factual information. That's because the key to resolving the dispute may well lie in establishing the accuracy or otherwise of some factual detail that lies at the heart of the matter.

It may not come as too much of a surprise to learn that we frequently need to check specific share price data, for example, or that we need access to comprehensive legal and regulatory data. But the very wide range of financial disputes we cover - from banking to pension problems and from stockbroking to pet insurance, means there's potentially almost no limit to the type of factual information that might be needed when looking into the specific circumstances of a particular dispute.

For example, as we illustrate in this issue of ombudsman news, ready access to up-to-date price guides is essential when we are looking into motor insurance disputes over the valuation of an insured vehicle. And a long-running insurance dispute over damage to a roof - allegedly caused by storm-force winds - might only be resolved after one of our adjudicators has checked historic weather data, to establish precisely how strong the wind was in that particular policyholder's postcode area on the day in question.

It certainly helps that so much data is now readily accessible on-line. But getting hold of some of the required information is by no means always straightforward. Tracking down certain types of data may need specialist search skills or be extremely time-consuming. And some specialised on-line services may only be available to a limited number of licence-holders or subscribers.

So the Financial Ombudsman Service has a small team of professional researchers who provide our adjudicators and ombudsmen with a dedicated in-house library and information service. The researchers carry out detailed specialist information requests, as well as maintaining a wide range of library resources in both electronic and the more traditional paper-based forms.

Of the hundreds of queries the team researched last year in connection with the disputes referred to the ombudsman service, the most common involved legal or company-specific information, historic weather data, and details about the rules of previous regulatory bodies.

As well as having access to a wide range of electronic library and archive resources, our research team is able to borrow publications and obtain information from specialist libraries and subscription business information services. For example, the British Library holds a copy of every book or journal published in the UK, and its document delivery service allows us to borrow publications or purchase photocopies. We also have access to the library collections, document supply services and enquiry services of organisations including the Chartered Insurance Institute.

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ombudsman news issue 66 [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.