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ombudsman news

issue 73

October/November 2008

ombudsman focus: publishing complaint data

Last month we set out our plans for publishing information - for the first time - on the complaints we handle about named individual firms. In this ombudsman focus we answer the questions we've been asked most frequently about these plans - and about what publishing this information will involve.

doesn't the ombudsman service already publish data about the complaints it receives-

Since the formation of the Financial Ombudsman Service in 2000, we have published information in our annual reviews about the number and type of complaints we receive - and about the outcome of those complaints. This continues a tradition set by the ombudsman schemes that merged to form the Financial Ombudsman Service. But none of those predecessor schemes released information about the individual financial businesses they covered. And this has also been our position to date.

Almost a decade on, however, there are far greater expectations of openness. Increasingly, public opinion is that relevant information should not be kept secret without good reason. It was in this context that the non-executive board of the Financial Ombudsman Service asked Lord Hunt of the Wirral to consider the question of releasing more information about complaints - as part of his recent independent review of the accessibility and openness of the ombudsman service.

what did Lord Hunt say about the publication of complaints data-

In April 2008, Lord Hunt published his report on the ombudsman service, opening up, reaching out and aiming high. In this report he recommended that greater transparency in complaints-handling should include our making information publicly available about how individual businesses deal with complaints.

As announced in our annual review (published in May 2008) and in the policy statement, our strategic approach to transparency (published in July 2008), this recommendation was accepted by the board of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Separately, the National Consumer Council published a paper earlier this year on the future direction of ombudsman schemes in consumer markets - encouraging ombudsmen to publish details of complaints they upheld. And in May 2008, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) issued a discussion paper [DP08/03 opens in PDF format], suggesting that it should publish the complaints-related data it collects from the firms it regulates.

what kind of data about individual firms does the ombudsman plan to make public-

In our document, publication of complaint data: next steps - published in September 2008 - we have proposed publishing:

  • the number of complaints referred to the ombudsman service in relation to the 150 or so financial businesses that produce between 85% and 95% of all cases; and
  • the percentage of "upheld" complaints - where the outcome changed in favour of the consumer, after the involvement of the ombudsman service.

how will the ombudsman's complaints data fit in with information on complaints that the FSA has said it plans to publish-

Our plans for publishing data about the cases we handle concerning named individual firms are separate from - but complementary to - the FSA's plans. The FSA has proposed publishing information it receives from regulated firms about the number and outcome of complaints that those firms receive from consumers and handle themselves.

We are working closely with the FSA on issues such as the inter-relationships between the format and content of the data it proposes to publish itself - and the format and content of the data that we plan to make available.

when will the information about named firms first become available-

Our case-handling system was not originally set up to produce statistical data for external use, and we would not want to publish data before putting in place some changes to our systems (including verification procedures). Depending on the answers to some of the remaining practical issues, the first information we publish about named firms could relate to either the first or the second half of 2009.

what are the remaining issues about publishing this kind of complaints data-

We are currently working with consumer organisations and industry trade-bodies - and seeking comments from all interested parties - on a number of specific practical issues relating to publishing complaints data about individual financial firms. These issues include:

  • how to show data for businesses that operate under various trading names;
  • how data on the outcome of complaints should be verified;
  • what period the data should cover; and
  • how far it is possible to put the data in a wider context (such as the size of the businesses concerned).

For more information about our proposals for publishing complaint data about named individual firms, please see our document, publication of complaint data: next steps.

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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.