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annual review 2008/09

1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009

other work we have done

To support our work in settling disputes between consumers and businesses providing financial services, we feed back the lessons learned from our work to a wide range of stakeholders and customers.

This section highlights some of these stakeholder-engagement activities. There is more information about this work in our corporate plan and budget, published in January each year.

extensions to our remit

From October 2008 the scope of the consumer-credit complaints we can look at was extended further, to cover two new categories of consumer credit licensee - debt administrators and providers of credit information services ("credit repairers").

From January 2009 "connected travel insurance" (sold by travel agents and tour operators alongside a holiday or other travel) came into our "compulsory jurisdiction", which already covered other types of insurance broking.

And we made arrangements for freight-forwarders to join our "voluntary jurisdiction" - to maintain ombudsman coverage of complaints involving insurance arrangements for customers, following the de-regulation of these activities from 6 April 2009.

preparing for further extensions to our remit

We have been working with HM Treasury and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) on the complaints-handling arrangements arising from:

  • The implementation of the European Payment Services Directive, which will bring new types of financial businesses within our "compulsory jurisdiction" from November 2009.
  • The transfer of dormant bank and building society accounts to one or more "reclaim funds" that are likely to come within our "compulsory jurisdiction" during 2009.
  • "Sale and rent-back" (by homeowners who can no longer afford their mortgages but wish to stay on as tenants), likely to come within our "compulsory jurisdiction" during 2009.

pensions

Following the government's decision that the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Pensions Ombudsman should remain separate organisations for the time being, we have been working with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and the Pensions Ombudsman, to explore ways of improving "signposting" for users and closer co-operation between the ombudsmen.

national and international role

We have maintained close relations during the year with a number of government departments that have a particular interest in what we do - including HM Treasury, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and the Ministry of Justice.

We have provided input to the European Commission on a number of its initiatives, including the proposed updated directive on consumer protection and proposals for harmonising the collection and recording of consumer-complaint data.

The Financial Ombudsman Service model continues to be a yardstick for dispute-resolution. We have helped a number of public bodies, at home and abroad, in creating or adapting dispute-resolution processes that build on our expertise.

Through the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA), FIN-NET (the European network of financial redress schemes) and INFO (the international network of financial ombudsman schemes) we have continued to share best practice with other ombudsman schemes worldwide.

working with the FSA, the OFT and other authorities

We have continued to work closely with the FSA (as regulator of financial services) and with the OFT (as regulator of consumer credit) on issues that affect both our dispute-resolution role and their regulatory roles.

This included input to the FSA's retail distribution review (planning the future market for the sale of investments and savings products) - as well as liaison with the FSA and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) on issues arising from failing financial businesses.

accessibility and transparency

It is important that those people who need our help know what we do, and are able to access our services without difficulty. And it is also important that we are clear and transparent with people and financial businesses about what we do.

In July 2008 we published strategic plans for accessibility and transparency. And our corporate plan published in January 2009 reported fully on the progress we have made on increasing both the accessibility and openness of our service.

During the year our accessibility initiatives have included:

In discussion with industry and consumer representatives, we have also been developing proposals for improving our more formal liaison-arrangements.

A key part of our work on transparency has been the creation of the new senior-management post of head of practice. The new lead ombudsman appointed to this role in March 2009 has taken charge of developing the online digest of our approach to different types of complaints. Meanwhile, a number of law faculties at leading universities have expressed interest in working with us on publishing selected ombudsman decisions.

Linked to our accessibility and transparency initiatives, we have also developed further our extensive quality-assurance systems. This area of our work is now being led by our newly-appointed director of business-planning and assurance.

publishing complaint data

An aspect of our transparency plans that attracted particular attention during the year was our proposal to publish business-specific complaint data - covering the number of new cases referred to us by consumers about individual businesses and the proportion of cases we uphold.

Following public consultation on the practical issues involved, in March 2009 we published details of how we will issue this data from autumn 2009. We are liaising closely with the FSA on its own intentions regarding data about complaints received by the financial businesses it regulates.

engaging with stakeholders

We carry out a wide range of activities aimed at sharing our experience and knowledge with the outside world. Over the year these external-liaison and outreach activities have included:

  • Dealing with 15,650 enquiries to our technical advice desk - our dedicated service for people handling complaints in the financial services sector and the consumer-advice world.
  • Handling 608 parliamentary enquiries and 155 ministerial questions and requests for information.
  • Taking part in industry conferences and events - including national trade fairs such as Mortgage Business Expo in Manchester, the Credit Show in London and Financial Adviser Expo in Glasgow.
  • Organising visits, meetings and training for businesses and trade bodies - including a relationship-management programme involving the 45 financial services groups that together accounted for over 85% of complaints referred to the ombudsman service during the year.
  • Meeting and training regional advice workers - from Truro to Dumfries, Norwich to Belfast - to share our complaints-handling skills with front-line problem solvers in the community.
  • Taking our exhibition stand to high-profile consumer events, including the Glasgow Mela (a multi-cultural festival), Clothes Show Live, Beyond Boundaries (the disability-lifestyle event), the Caravan and Motorhome Show, Nursing in Practice (for carers and primary-care workers), The Education Show and The Retirement Show.
  • Speaking at seminars and conferences hosted by organisations ranging from the Money Advice Liaison Group to the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters.
  • Targeting specific audiences - those less likely to use, or be aware of, the ombudsman service - with advertising in magazines including Black History Month, the What's On? student guide, Jump (the parenting magazine), Disability Now, Adviser magazine (for community and advice workers), Matters Arising (the National School Governors' Association's magazine) and Women's Health.
  • Adding 300 new pages to our website - including 133 news updates and more video and audio clips (in mpeg and mp3-format).
  • Publishing our regular newsletter, ombudsman news, and distributing over a million copies of our consumer leaflet and other publications (including versions in over 20 other languages and formats).
  • Answering media questions and providing information for publications ranging from the Wigan Evening Post to Mortgage Adviser, Fast Bikes to Your Cat - and taking part in broadcast programmes ranging from Martin Lewis' It Pays to Watch to Radio Ulster's On Your Behalf, BBC News 24 to Asian community Panjab Radio.