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ombudsman news

issue 81

November/December 2009

ombudsman news "Q&A" page

featuring questions that businesses and advice workers have raised recently with the ombudsman's technical advice desk - our free, expert service for professional complaints-handlers.

Can I rely on an adjudication as representing the official ombudsman approach-

We encourage the businesses we cover to consider carefully the decisions we make - and to apply our general approach to their own complaints handling. This is why we recognise that it is important for us to be consistent in the way we apply a general approach to similar types of complaint.

However, our primary focus is to resolve the individual case in front of us - rather than to produce general guidance for businesses.

This is reflected in the fact that our adjudications do not always set out the full framework within which we have analysed the dispute. Instead, they tend to focus on those points on which we have placed particular weight in deciding the outcome of the case.

So care needs to be taken in interpreting more widely, or in a more general context, an adjudication made in a one-off case. And an adjudication is not a final ombudsman decision.

Cases which may look broadly similar - perhaps involving the same financial product at around the same time - will often turn on very different points, when we start to examine the individual facts. This is because everyone's personal and financial circumstances are different. The right outcome in one case won't automatically be the right answer in other, similar-looking cases

How does the ombudsman ensure consistency between decisions-

The fact that we may arrive at different outcomes on separate cases shouldn't be seen as surprising. This isn't a question of inconsistency - it reflects the fact that we look at each complaint individually and make a decision on what we believe is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the particular case.

As noted in our reply to the previous question, there may be surface similarities between some complaints. But when we look at them in detail, we generally find that very different facts and issues are involved - because everyone's personal and financial circumstances will be different.

Deciding complaints - like financial advice itself - can involve a complex balance of judgement, often based on a wide array of seemingly contradictory facts. The "right" outcome in one case will not automatically be the right answer in other "similar" cases. However, if a business or a customer thinks an adjudicator's view is inconsistent with the ombudsman's general approach, then they can of course ask for an ombudsman's decision on the case.

We dedicate a considerable amount of resource to monitoring the quality and consistency of our work. Our decision-making processes are embedded in an intranet-based knowledge management system. And our quality management process includes a casework-wide quality control and audit mechanism. This means that internal review procedures and quality-checking systems are built in across the life-cycle of complaints.

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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.