Introduction from Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman & chief executive

At the start of 2021, I reflected on how brilliantly our people stepped up to the challenges of the past year, and continue to do so.

The progress we’d already made in supporting people to balance their commitments inside and outside work meant we could go even further when it really mattered – and meant we could keep delivering our service.

In this report, you’ll hear from our people about their experiences in lockdown – as parents, partners, friends and carers – while helping our customers with their own challenges.

Real lives

All over the world, 2020 laid bare people’s vulnerabilities, inequalities, and financial pressures. But it was also a catalyst for change.

Disruption meant people had to pull together – being flexible, pragmatic, and doing their very best in demanding situations.

Colleagues worked in their bedrooms or on the sofa. On video calls they were joined by pets or kids – sometimes both. People at home understood more about what their parents, partners or flatmates did for a living. It didn’t always run smoothly, but felt like life.

But separated from normal daily routines, friends and loved ones, looking after our own wellbeing wasn’t easy.

There have been times when I’ve really felt that, and been grateful for all the support available to everyone at the ombudsman service.

Difficult conversations

Covid-19 wasn’t the only significant event of 2020. The issue of racial injustice was also brought into sharp focus – something which, sadly, has impacted many of our people. 

In previous reports, we’ve talked about the culture we’ve nurtured of having conversations about difficult topics. The death of George Floyd was one of those topics.

The Let’s Talk About Race sessions, run by our Embrace network and our inclusion and wellbeing team, gave people a platform to share their experiences of racism and helped us understand where we can do more.

Keeping up the momentum on these conversations, continuing to ask ourselves tough questions, and exploring the areas where we aren’t as good as we want to be, remain extremely important.

This year we’re publishing our ethnicity pay gap for the first time. Though our overall ethnic diversity is one of our strengths, we’re clearly disappointed with a median pay gap of 16.1%, and a mean gap of 24.5%.

But out of that disappointment comes a determination to do everything possible to close it, and with a lot of initiatives already underway, and more analysis in train, efforts will focus on where they’ll have maximum impact.

This will be especially important as the service concludes its mass payment protection insurance casework, and changes to prepare for future challenges.

A thank you

Whether focused on the pandemic, race, or other challenges, the stories here make for an inspiring read. They show the ombudsman service at its best – and why it’s been such an honour and a privilege to lead it for almost seven years.

It’s clear to me that we’ve made significant and important strides in embedding diversity, inclusion and wellbeing in that time. Our people rate our inclusivity as the thing they most value about working here – I’m so proud of that, and of the people who make our ambitions an everyday reality. I know that this excellent work will continue.

I’d like to thank everyone at the service for the commitment and professionalism they’ve shown during this exceptional year. It’s been a brilliant expression of the culture and values that remain at the heart of the service as it embarks on the next phase of its journey – and which I’ll carry with me as I do the same.

Remembering Juliana Francis

In early 2021 we lost our friend and long-time colleague, Juliana Francis. Juliana was our head of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, a hugely experienced ombudsman, and the driving force behind embedding inclusivity across the service and the creation of this report three years ago.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing are more than words – they’re about humanity, fellowship, and championing the change we want to see. Juliana epitomised that spirit.

She leaves a gap at the service we can’t fill, but her vision and values live on. The progress we celebrate here embodies the energy, challenge, focus, joy and passion Juliana brought to everything she did. She was an inspiration to so many, and we miss her very much.

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman & chief executive
March 2021

Read about:

  • How we're responding to Covid-19: Our diversity, inclusion and wellbeing commitments became more important than ever in the pandemic, and helped shape our response. But the experience hasn’t been the same for everyone.
  • How we're stepping up: World events of 2020 put issues of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing firmly in the spotlight. More people than ever realised they had a part to play – whatever their background – in recognising unfairness and inequality.
  • Our progress: Read about our action plan, our staff diversity and our commitment to gender equality.

Responding to Covid-19

Our twin priorities throughout the pandemic have been protecting the wellbeing of our people and continuing to provide the service our customers need. The need for a shift to remote working brought particular challenges.


monitors provided to our people to help them work from home


office chairs we recycled by delivering to people’s homes


virtual workplace assessments done by our property team

In March 2020, it became clear that the rapidly-spreading virus meant we were facing an extended period of not being able to safely work in our offices.

We’ve offered flexible working for many years. We know our people value the work/life benefits it brings, and it’s enabled us to attract a broader spectrum of talented people with a diverse range of backgrounds. And shortly before the pandemic, we’d begun our rollout of smarter working – giving our people improved technology and flexibility to work in ways that mean they can still deliver an excellent service, whether remotely or in the office.

Both gave us head starts, but the pandemic created wholly new challenges. Suddenly, the often significant differences in people’s home circumstances had a big impact on their ability to work remotely. Shared flats, small spaces, family, pets, flatmates and partners were the reality of people’s new working world.  

This meant we had to do as much as we could to level the playing field, whether by providing our people with technology and chairs, extending our carers’ and dependents’ paid leave, or encouraging flexible hours to help with home-schooling, so we could help our people to continue to perform at their best, in the most difficult times we and our customers had ever faced.

The pandemic has also had a significant impact on many of the people using our service – sometimes causing, and sometimes exacerbating extremely difficult situations that leave them vulnerable to detriment. In October 2020, we expanded our additional support area, so we now have two teams dedicated to handling complaints from people in the most challenging circumstances.

Stepping up

In May 2020, in the midst of the escalating pandemic, George Floyd was killed in the USA. The impact was felt across the world, and sparked a global examination of racial inequality. As an employer of a diverse workforce, we wanted to respond quickly.

In a video message for the whole organisation recorded shortly after the death of George Floyd, our chief ombudsman & chief executive Caroline Wayman emphasised that we stand together against all forms of discrimination. She encouraged people – many of whom were reliving their own experiences – to come together, share feelings, experiences, and action for change.

Our Let's Talk About Race initiative was already underway, and we stepped it up in response to the murder and the protests that followed. And as we were already working remotely, because of the pandemic, it was especially important to keep connecting with each another.

Although the initial headlines have passed, these issues remain real and present. It’s our responsibility as an employer and a service to keep helping people feel comfortable in sharing their experiences, to build understanding, and to push ourselves to do better. We continue to survey our staff on inclusion and wellbeing matters – to see how they’re coping, and to make sure we support people the best way we can. 

That’s what putting our values into action means to us and requires of us, and how we bring about change.

Our progress

We launched our new inclusion and wellbeing action plan in 2020. Here you can read about what we’ve done so far, and how we plan to build on past achievements. We also take a look at our diversity as a whole, and our commitments on gender equality.

In 2016 we launched our first three-year equality, diversity and inclusion action plan. It brought our ongoing initiatives together with a new set of commitments to embed equality, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing in everything we do.

What we’ve done

  • Bolstered our focus on diverse recruitment by assessing where we advertise vacancies to ensure a broad reach and diverse mix of candidates.
  • Broadened our set of equality, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing measures with more inclusion questions in our staff survey.
  • Brought together existing policies and practices to support disabled colleagues with workplace adjustments.
  • Established a quarterly forum for employee networks to talk to the executive team.
  • Expanded our equality, diversity and inclusion learning and development offering to include trans awareness, managing mental health, neurodiversity and dignity at work.
  • Embedded equality, diversity and inclusion messages into our regular internal communications, with a focus on communications from senior managers.
  • Improved our employer ranking and worked towards formal external accreditation with partners including the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) and Stonewall.
  • Built on our existing relationships with external organisations, such as with local charities, to maximise our positive impact.
  • Reported annually on our diversity, inclusion and wellbeing.
  • Committed to the Women In Finance charter and re-signing the Time to Change pledge, Disability Confident, and the Business in the Community Race at Work charter.
  • Committed to a staff engagement campaign to encourage sharing of diversity data in our HR system, to help us better understand our workforce and performance against our commitments.

We’ll also be including a ‘right to review’ clause in contracts with external suppliers where we have questions about a supplier’s equality, diversity and inclusion commitments, and when tendering for new services, ensuring that the chosen supplier mirrors our values.

What we plan to do – our new action plan

Building on the progress we made under our previous action plan, we now want to go further. Our new inclusion and wellbeing strategy and action plan, launched in October 2020, has five main pillars:

  • Inclusive leadership
  • Talent management
  • Resourcing
  • Community and customers
  • Wellbeing of our people

We’re doing a complete review of our inclusion training, including unconscious bias, and considering how we’re consciously inclusive. For example, everyone at the service has just completed mandatory e-learning on gender identity, to help us understand more about the key principles of gender identity and how it differs from other characteristics.

We’ll formalise inclusive leadership in our managers’ and senior managers’ core competencies, development and objectives, creating and embedding diversity dashboards for the executive team to raise awareness of the diversity of their areas.

For managers, we’ll identify learning interventions to reduce bias, and embed inclusion and wellbeing throughout the people-management processes. We’ll help managers to support their people's mental health, with the launch of a new health and wellbeing guide, and provide guidance on how to manage wellbeing proactively. We launched safeguarding e-learning to raise awareness on domestic abuse and how we can support our people.

Understanding more about our ethnicity pay gap will help us understand what interventions will best address it, especially in recruitment, career progression and talent management. We’ll consider what targeted actions could improve career progression opportunities for underrepresented groups, and this will include anonymising the talent development process, introducing blind screening and diverse panels for all roles, and removing management endorsements for internal roles. Our Embrace network will work with Business in the Community on an anti-racism allies programme, and we’ll continue to use surveys and listening tools to understand more about our people’s experiences and respond to them.