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annual review 2006/07

1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007

the complaints we received

at the front-line

Our customer contact division provides our front-line for consumer enquiries - by phone, letter and email. During the year we handled 627,814 initial enquiries and complaints from consumers - a 7 % decrease on the previous year. This largely reflects the increasing trend for consumers to access the information they need directly from our website, rather than by phoning or writing to us.

An average of 5,000 people now visit our website every day - a 20% increase on the previous year's figure. 225,000 complaint forms were downloaded from our website during the year. The other most regularly-used of our online resources were the "how to complain" page, our consumer leaflet, and the new "frequently-asked-questions" section on bank-charge complaints.

[more details about our website and the people who use it »]

initial enquiries and complaints from consumers

year ended 31 March phone enquiries written enquiries total enquiries
2007 341,455 286,359 627,814
2006 359,131 313,842 672,973
2005 328,999 285,149 614,148
2004 291,892 256,446 548,338

Only around one in six of these initial enquiries go on to become "full-blown" cases requiring the involvement of our adjudicators or ombudsmen. Our customer contact division aims to resolve as many of these initial problems and complaints as possible at this early stage. This usually involves sorting things out for consumers over the phone, as we know from experience that most people prefer this quick and simple way of resolving problems.

We are committed to providing access to justice for people from all backgrounds and sections of the community - not just for those who feel sufficiently confident and articulate to complain. No one should be prevented from accessing our services because of language barriers or other difficulties. We use an instant phone-based interpreting service to handle calls in languages other than English. And we use TypeTalk, and provide information in formats such as large print and audiotape/CD, to suit individual customers' needs.

Many consumers are unsure how to go about complaining - or don't know who to complain to at the business they are unhappy with. Where consumers get in touch with us first, before the business involved has had the opportunity to sort matters out, our customer contact division forwards the complaint direct to the business - and asks it to investigate the matter under its formal complaints procedure. We remind consumers that they can ask us to get involved directly if the business is not then able to resolve their complaint within eight weeks.

Where a consumer has already complained to the business in question - and contacts us to say they remain dissatisfied with the business's response - our customer contact division sorts out the paperwork and details we need to be able to look at the case. We can often get much of the relevant information by guiding the consumer through our complaint form over the phone. This can be the most efficient way for us to get the details we need - and consumers clearly value the reassurance of personal contact by phone.

Our customer contact division also offers frontline advice and general guidance to consumers. This includes explaining the complaints process and discussing individual cases, where consumers are confused about any redress already on offer, or are uncertain how - or whether - to proceed with a complaint.

We are always looking for ways to help nip problems in the bud at this early stage - before they escalate into full-scale disputes. This can involve intervening directly to sort things out - for example, where the problem is clearly just a simple administrative error or misunderstanding between the customer and the business.

Where further work is needed to resolve complaints, our customer contact division acts as the gateway to our specialist casework teams of adjudicators.

new cases referred to our adjudicators

In the year ended 31 March 2007, our customer contact division referred 94,392 new cases to our adjudicators and ombudsmen for more detailed dispute-resolution work.

This is 16% fewer cases than the record 112,923 new cases recorded in last year's annual review. It reflects the 33% decline during the year in the volume of mortgage endowment disputes referred to the ombudsman service. We have been anticipating this reduction in mortgage endowment complaints for some time, as increasing numbers of consumers reach the final date by which they must have complained.

This means that our workload is now finally starting to return to the more normal levels at which we were operating around three years ago - before mortgage endowment disputes started flooding in at rates of over 250 new cases every day. Even so, almost half of our annual caseload still involves mortgage endowments. And our overall workload remains three times the size it was in the financial year 2000/01, when our predecessor ombudsman schemes merged to form the Financial Ombudsman Service.

number of new cases

year ended 31 March number of new cases
2001 31,347
2002 43,330
2003 62,170
2004 97,901
2005 110,963
2006 112,923
2007 94,392

who these new cases are from

  %
complaints made by consumers themselves 75
complaints made on behalf of consumers by claims management companies 18
complaints made on behalf of consumers by third parties such as trading standards and citizens advice 5
complaints made by small businesses 2

The majority of people who bring complaints to the ombudsman service do so in their own personal capacity as individual consumers. However, we can also look at complaints brought by small businesses, charities and trusts that have an annual turnover, income or net asset value of up to £1 million.

Sole traders and people running small businesses may not always register a complaint with us specifically as a business dispute, because they often see the issues as essentially personal rather than commercial. This means that, in practice, the proportion of complaints made by smaller businesses may be slightly higher than the figure officially recorded in the chart above.

People wishing to bring their complaint to us can appoint someone else to do this on their behalf - for example, a member of their family, a friend or Citizens Advice. In recent years, an increasing number of consumers have been employing claims management companies to handle their mortgage endowment complaints for them.

We do not think consumers should need the help of a commercial third-party - such as a claims management company or solicitor - to bring a complaint to us. We decide cases by looking at the facts - not at how well the arguments are presented. We prefer to hear from consumers in their own words. If people employ someone else to present their case for them, this could mean they end up paying them out of any compensation that is due.

[more information about about the type of consumers who use our service »]

image of annual review 2007

This annual review is published in accordance with paragraph 7 of schedule 17 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.