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annual review 2007/08

1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008

who complained to us

what type of consumer uses the ombudsman service?

Just over half of the consumers who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were between the ages of 35 and 64. In previous years, eight out of ten people who used our service were in this age bracket.

The decreasing dominance of this age group is in line with the significant fall in the number of complaints about mortgage endowments this year. 35 to 64 year olds are the home-owning generation who were most likely to have had complaints relating to mortgage endowments.

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

  • 4% were under 25
  • 16% were 25 to 34
  • 23% were 35 to 44
  • 20% were 45 to 54
  • 14% were 55 to 64
  • 23% were over 65

The proportion of consumers under 35 who use our service doubled over the year to 20%. We hope this reflects the work we have carried out among this age group to help raise awareness of the right to bring financial disputes to the ombudsman service.

... and what gender are they?

  • female: 37
  • male: 63

Men complain more to the ombudsman service then women. However, the proportion of women who refer complaints to us has increased by 8% during the year - again reflecting, we hope, our various outreach initiatives with younger women. Many complaints relate to accounts and policies that are held jointly, where conventionally the first-named account-holder - the name our system records - is generally a male partner.

where do consumers live who complain to us?

The chart below shows where consumers who brought complaints to the ombudsman this year live in the UK. Comparing these figures with regional population data helps us monitor awareness and usage of our service across the regions and nations.

The location of people using the ombudsman service continues broadly to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

  % of consumers who phoned us with initial enquiries % of consumers who then went on to bring formal complaints to us
South East (including Greater London) 28 29
South West 2 9.5
East Anglia 5 5.5
Midlands 15 18
North East 6 9
North West 13 12
Wales 6 4.5
Scotland 7 9
Northern Ireland 2 2
  • 13% contacted us by mobile phone
  • 3% of calls not traceable
  • 1.5% live outside the UK
how did consumers hear about the ombudsman? %
through the media 40
from a friend, relative or colleague 21
from a financial services business 17
on the internet 11
from a consumer advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 8
other 3

Businesses covered by the ombudsman service are required by law to mention the ombudsman, when they deal with a customer for the first time. Businesses also have to give details about us, if a complaint arises which the business cannot resolve to the customer's satisfaction. So we would expect consumers with complaints to say they heard about us from the business they complained about. However, the proportion of people who told us that this is how they found out about us continued to fall - down to 17% this year from 19% in the previous year (and 32% the year before that).

On the other hand, the proportion of people who said they found out about the ombudsman from friends, relatives and work colleagues - or from the internet - continued to increase. Almost three-quarters of consumers who came to the ombudsman service said they knew about us from the internet, media or by word of mouth.

95% of people who got in touch with us said that finding our contact details had been easy - the same figure as in the previous year.

During the year we carried out market research into levels of awareness of the Financial Ombudsman Service among consumers more generally - as we are just as interested to hear the views of those who have not used our service. This research takes the form of quarterly phone-based interviews carried out with a representative sample of the adult UK population.

The results of this research during the year showed that:

  • 12% of consumers said they had been unhappy in their dealings with a financial services business.
  • 13% of consumers named us, unprompted, as the organisation whose job it is to resolve disputes between consumers and financial services businesses (up from 10% in the previous year).
  • The proportion of consumers able to name us, unprompted, was similar across all geographical areas within the UK - but varied significantly depending on age and socio-economic background.
  • During a period of extensive media coverage of consumers complaining about bank charges, the proportion of consumers able to name us, unprompted, rose to one in five people.
  • More than half of consumers felt that the existence of the ombudsman increased their confidence in financial services.
what newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman?
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday
regional and free papers
The Times / Sunday Times
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph
The Sun / News of the World
The Express / Sunday Express
The Mirror / Sunday Mirror
The Guardian / Observer
Financial Times
The Independent / Independent on Sunday
The Star

The general pattern of newspaper-reading among people who use the ombudsman service - as recorded in our consumer research - remains broadly similar to previous years' findings. Knowing which newspapers are read by consumers who bring complaints to us gives us a useful insight into the socio-economic background of our customers.

Other analysis we have carried out during the year - which has involved looking at the postcodes and occupations of those referring complaints to the ombudsman service - indicates that the proportion of people from different socio-economic backgrounds who use the ombudsman service broadly relates to the number of financial products estimated to be held by different socio-economic groups.

Our research also shows that there is no statistically significant variation - by socio-economic group or lifestyle group - in the outcome of complaints brought to the ombudsman service.

During the year we launched a number of targeted consumer initiatives to help raise levels of awareness and usage of the ombudsman service - where our research identified specific groups of more vulnerable consumers or those who appeared to be less likely to know about, or to use, our service. There are more details below about this aspect of our accessibility work.

accessibility and consumer diversity

13% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year told us they had some form of disability (12% in the previous year) - predominantly mobility difficulties.

Demand continued to increase during the year for information in alternative formats such as Braille, large print and on audiotape/CD - and we also use TypeTalk, sign-language and "accessible text" (sometimes also called "easy read"). This is part of our commitment to be flexible and to accommodate our customers' individual needs wherever we can.

During the year our accessibility taskforce - which comprises senior staff from across all areas of the ombudsman service - launched a special focus on how we respond to customers with different needs. This has included taking part in various initiatives to seek feedback in the community on how we approach disability issues - and how we can learn from the problems that people with disabilities may have encountered in financial services.

8% of people who used our service during the year defined themselves as belonging to non-white ethnic groups (7% in the previous year). 14% of our own employees come from a non-white ethnic background. Our consumer research shows that levels of awareness of the ombudsman vary between consumers from different ethnic backgrounds - but the most significant fluctuations relate to age, region and socio-economic factors.

During the year we continued our partnership with ZEE, the UK Asian media-network. Our tailored messages - for example, our Eid/Diwali advert in ZEE TV magazine [opens in PDF format] - and our closer work with the Asian community, including taking part in "melas" (Asian lifestyle events), may have contributed to the two-fold increase in unprompted awareness of the ombudsman recorded among this group of consumers during the year.

In the last few years, the influx into the UK of migrant workers from Eastern Europe, and especially Poland, has given the financial services sector the opportunity to develop new markets for financial products and services. The banking sector, for example, has responded by offering people arriving from Poland new accounts reflecting the particular circumstances and needs of this group.

To complement the wide range of information already provided by many public-sector and commercial organisations for Polish workers arriving in the UK, we produced a tailored information pack for distribution across the UK Polish-support network. This included information cards with key messages in English and Polish - as well as links to Polish pages on our website.

Our work in languages other than English also reflects the fact that last year over 1,000 consumers from 88 countries round the world brought complaints to the ombudsman service - relating to UK-based financial services and products.

For people who are not comfortable using English, we provide information and communicate in many other languages. In the past year we have done so using over 30 languages - including handling correspondence in Romanian, phone calls in Tigrinya and emails in Kurdish. Around half of our interpreting and translation work involves predominantly Asian languages and the other half involves European languages (of which two thirds are Western European languages and one third Eastern).

We also run 12 "micro-sites" (mini websites) in languages ranging from Somali to Welsh. And we have video and audio clips (in mpeg and mp3-format) available on our website in eight languages.

During the year we identified a number of other groups of consumers who appeared to be under-represented in terms of usage of the ombudsman service. Our research indicated that younger women, for example, were generally around 10% less likely to know about the ombudsman service than their male peers. We therefore launched a specific awareness-raising initiative, targeting women aged 25 to 45. This included producing advertorial and advertising for the women's press - and taking part in lifestyle events and consumer shows outside the conventional financial services arena, such as the National Wedding show and the Vitality health, beauty and well-being show.

We similarly targeted an awareness-campaign at parents with young families - a group shown by our research to be more likely to have a wider range of financial products, but less likely to be aware of their right to complain to the ombudsman if things go wrong. As with our initiative with younger women, we produced a range of tailored information and took part in mainstream events that took us outside the world of financial services. Our theme at events such as the BBC Good Homes show at Birmingham NEC was "bubbles and balloons" - designed to make our potentially rather dry and abstract message more accessible and fun.

The proportion of complaints to the ombudsman service brought by younger people - though growing - does not appear to correspond to their increasing ownership of financial products, which typically includes travel, motor and mobile-phone insurance, bank accounts and store cards. Our market research suggested that of the small proportion of younger people who said they had actually complained to a financial services business - and remained unhappy with how the business had handled their complaint - most did not then refer the dispute to us. This was largely because they thought there was "no point", it would be "too much hassle" or they "couldn't be bothered".

In response to this feedback, we launched a youth awareness-campaign at the 2007 Trading Standards annual conference - using a range of posters and postcards aimed at increasing the perceived relevance of the ombudsman to this age group.

We also produced a special education resource-pack for teachers and youth workers - providing key information about the role of the ombudsman in resolving disputes. We launched the resource-pack at The Education Show at Birmingham NEC - and have promoted it widely in the education press and across youth websites and networks.

Our work with teachers and youth workers has highlighted the value these "trusted individuals" in the community place on the key life-skills that dispute-resolution involves, such as negotiation, problem-solving and communication.

During the year we identified that consumers in Northern Ireland showed slightly lower levels of awareness of the ombudsman service than consumers elsewhere across the UK. In response to this, we launched an initiative which involved taking part in a major consumer show in Belfast and working closely with the regional media.

our website users

During the year we recorded 44 million hits on our website - with an average of 160,000 visitors a month. On the busiest day on the website during the year 8,243 people logged on. In July 2007 we were listed in the Daily Mirror as one of "the 101 websites that will help change your life".

To find out more about our website users - and why they visited us online - we ran a web-based user-survey over a three-month period at the end of 2007. Key findings showed that:

  • 43% of people were first-time visitors and 57% had already been on our website previously.
  • 56% of users were male and 44% female.
  • 68% were consumers visiting for personal use and 32% were on our website for business purposes.
  • 34% of people who use the website are under 35, while 20% of this age group actually bring complaints to the ombudsman service; conversely, 19% of people visiting our website are over 55, while 37% of people who complain to us are in this age group.
  • 70% of users said they would definitely visit the site again.

During the year we also added "voting buttons" to the most accessed pages of the website, inviting users to tell us how useful they found these particular sections by voting on a scale of 1 to 5 - with 1 being "very useful" and 5 "not very useful". Each section received the top ratings of 1 or 2 from at least 80% of users - with the accessibility page receiving these top ratings from 92% of people who voted.

how did our website users find out about the site? %
through an internet search engine 30
through a link on another website 26
told by a financial services business 21
from a friend or colleague 21
mentioned in a newspaper 2

There was a 50% increase during the year in the number of people who said they found out about our website through internet searches or from links on other websites. This reflects the growing importance of the internet and social media as sources of information.

what stage are our website users at in pursuing their own complaints? %
only browsing at this stage 18
thinking about making a complaint to a financial services business 24
waiting for a financial services business to reach a decision on their complaint 16
thinking about referring an unresolved dispute to the ombudsman service 18
waiting for the ombudsman service to make a decision on their complaint 24

Compared with the previous year, fewer people who used our website said they were only browsing or thinking about complaining - and more said they were already actively involved in pursuing a complaint, either with us or with the business involved.

how do consumers who complain to the ombudsman rate our service?

  % who agree % who express no view % who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 71 17 12
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 65 13 22
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 60 18 22
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 47 18 35
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 65 13 22
we provide a service you would recommend to family and friends 71 12 17

These results showed a small improvement on the previous year.

how does the outcome of a complaint affect how consumers rate the service we provide?

Of those consumers who said they felt they had "won" their complaint:

  • 86% of consumers were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 8% were dissatisfied; and
  • 6% expressed no view.

Of those consumers who said they felt they had "lost" their complaint:

  • 47% were satisfied with our handling of their case;
  • 34% were dissatisfied; and
  • 19% expressed no view.

Nine out of ten consumers who felt they had "won" their complaint said they would recommend our service to their friends and family. But only five out of ten consumers who felt they had "lost" their case said they would do so. This shows how people's personal experience of our service is inevitably influenced by how they perceive the outcome of their own individual complaint. Unfortunately, this means we cannot please everyone.

However, seeking the views of those who have used our service is an essential part of finding out where we can improve.

image of annual review 2008

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