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annual review 2010/2011

1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011

who complained to us

what kind of consumer uses the ombudsman service?

It is essential that we know what kinds of consumers bring complaints to the ombudsman service - so that we can provide a service that meets their needs and expectations.

Understanding who our customers are also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is less well known and used.

We carry out a wide range of research to find out more about our customers, as part of our work to:

  • Identify and respond to what people who use our service - and our stakeholders more generally - want and expect from us.
  • Update and improve our case-handling procedures to make our service easier to use and more tailored to individual needs.
  • Adjust how we work in individual cases to address particular accessibility issues.
  • Meet our commitment to equality and diversity.
  • Target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities.

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

  • 3% were under 25
  • 15% were 25 to 34
  • 23% were 35 to 44
  • 25% were 45 to 54
  • 17% were 55 to 65
  • 17% were over 65

The number of consumers bringing complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service over the last three years has increased substantially - but the overall proportion of people in each age group has remained broadly similar over this period.

Two thirds of consumers who use our service are between the ages of 35 and 65. This reflects the fact that they are more likely to own a wider range of financial products. Our research also shows that people in these age groups are generally also more likely to know about their consumer rights, including their right to complain to the ombudsman.

However, during the year the proportion of complaints we received from consumers over 65 increased by a record 42%. This reflects the significantly larger number of older people who have referred complaints to us about payment protection insurance (PPI). It may also reflect our outreach work with older and retired people over the last few years - with more consumers in the older age groups now showing increased confidence in complaining.

We monitor closely the types of people who initially contact our consumer helpline - and compare these with the types of consumer who subsequently pursue a case with us formally. This enables us to see if there are any differences in the kinds of people who use our service at the various different stages of our process.

Our research shows that people in all age groups are equally likely to pursue a complaint formally, once they have made informal contact with us initially - with the exception of consumers aged under 25.

Consumers under 25 and over 65 are slightly less likely to have their complaints upheld than people in other age groups - but this reflects the products they complain about. Younger consumers, in particular, are relatively less likely to complain about payment protection insurance (PPI) - where we uphold a proportionately high number of cases in the consumer's favour. 

Younger consumers are also statistically more likely than those in other age groups to agree at an earlier stage with an adjudicator's view or informal settlement - and less likely to request a formal ombudsman's decision.

what age are consumers who pursue complaints to the final stage - for an ombudsman's decision?

  • 10% were under 25
  • 10% were 25 to 34
  • 14% were 35 to 44
  • 15% were 45 to 54
  • 24% were 55 to 65
  • 27% were over 65

The proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's final decision increases by age group. This largely reflects the types of financial products involved. As people get older, they generally have more complex products such as pensions and investments - areas where ombudsmen are proportionately more involved in making decisions, given the larger amounts of money often at stake.

For example, a quarter of complaints brought by consumers aged 55 to 64 related to pensions and investments - but these products featured in only 2% of the cases brought by people aged between 25 and 34. On the other hand, younger people are - proportionately - significantly more likely to refer complaints to the ombudsman service about current accounts.

There is more information later on in this chapter about our work with younger people - to help raise their awareness of the ombudsman service, and their confidence and ability to get problems sorted themselves.

... and what gender are they?

  • female: 38%
  • male: 62%

Men continue to complain more to the ombudsman service than women. These figures have remained unchanged for several years. However, 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.

More women contact us initially on our consumer helpline than subsequently pursue complaints with us formally. This is something we have been monitoring closely.

Our research suggests that women are more likely to be satisfied than men with the way a financial business handles their complaint. This may explain why fewer women return to us with a formal complaint, after our helpline has explained the complaints procedure and the importance of complaining first to the business they are unhappy with.

On the other hand, our research also shows that women are less likely than men to take further action, if they remain unhappy with how the business handles their complaint at the first stage of the complaints procedure. We will continue to keep this under review, as part of our work to ensure our service is accessible to everyone.

The three products that women and men complain about the most are:

  • payment protection insurance (24% of both men's and women's complaints);
  • current accounts (19% of women's complaints and 16% of men's); and
  • credit cards (13% of women's complaints and 11% of men's).

Taking into account the fact that the proportion of complaints we uphold varies according to the financial product involved - and that the proportion of products complained about by women and men varies slightly - there is no significant difference in the outcome of cases based on gender.

There is also no significant difference between men and women in the proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's decision to settle a case finally.

where do consumers live who complain to us?

This table shows where consumers live who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year. The spread of our customers across the UK remained similar to the previous year - although the number of people from the South East fell slightly and the proportion of consumers from Scotland and the North East of England rose by 12%.

region where consumers who complain to us live %
South East (including Greater London) 28
Midlands 19
North West 12
North East 10
South West 9
Scotland 9
East Anglia 5
Wales 5
Northern Ireland 2
outside the UK 1

Comparing these figures with regional population data helps us monitor awareness and use 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.

Generally speaking, we saw a similar pattern of complaints about most financial products across all areas of the UK. However, a higher proportion of complaints from the North related to payment protection insurance (PPI) than in the South. For example, 56% of complaints from the North East of England involved PPI compared with 40% in the South East.

the "top 20" places where people phoned us from the most

  1. Ladywood, Birmingham
  2. Cottingham, Hull
  3. Woodhouse, Leeds
  4. West Derby, Liverpool
  5. Bridgeton, Glasgow
  6. Moston, Manchester
  7. Croydon
  8. Mapperley, Nottingham
  9. Canton, Cardiff
  10. Great Sankey, Warrington
  11. Fulham, London
  12. Hove, East Sussex
  13. Norbiton, London
  14. Farley, Luton
  15. Blackfriars, Salford
  16. Kingsbury, London
  17. Narborough, Leicester
  18. Wembley, London
  19. Streatham, London
  20. Winchmore Hill, London

We are able to build up a picture of where people phone us from the most, by seeing which phone exchange their calls come through on.

The places where people called us from the most were generally densely-populated and diverse urban and suburban areas across the UK. Unsurprisingly, we received fewest calls from remote areas of Wales and the Scottish Highlands.

how did consumers who referred complaints to us know about the ombudsman?

how did consumers with complaints know about the ombudsman? %
in the media (press and broadcast) 29
from a financial business 20
on the internet 17
from a friend, relative or colleague 16
from a consumer-advice agency (eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice) 7
other ombudsman or complaints scheme 2
other 9

The main way that most consumers who refer complaints to us hear about the ombudsman continues to be through the media (although this figure fell by 9%
year-on-year).

This is different from what those consumers who initially contact our consumer helpline tell us, when we ask them how they first heard about us. These consumers - getting in touch with us for initial help and guidance, rather than to refer a complaint to us formally - are more likely to know about us through word of mouth than through the press.

The importance of the traditional media, as the primary way of finding out about us, is also clearly linked directly to age. Our research shows that younger people rely significantly less on newspapers to find out about us - and much more on what friends, colleagues and family tell them.

Women are also 50% more likely than men to have heard about us through word of mouth - from friends, colleagues and family. Similarly, more women than men found out about us on the internet - reflecting the 13% increase during the year in people who knew about us this way. The internet is how a significant proportion of Asian consumers also first heard about us.

Interestingly, people under the age of 25 were not the age group that relied the heaviest on the internet for information about us. This is consistent with other feedback from students and younger people on what they use the internet for.

In particular, younger people have been clear that we should develop only a low-key social-media presence to communicate with them. There is more information about our outreach work with younger people further on in this chapter.

"... people under 25 were not the age group that relied most on the internet for information about us"

While 38% of people from professional and managerial (AB) backgrounds told us they heard about us through the media, this figure fell to less than a quarter of people from the unskilled (DE) social-economic group - who relied significantly more on friends, colleagues and family, and on front-line consumer-advice agencies, for information about us.

Under the complaints-handling rules, businesses covered by the ombudsman service are required 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 a significant proportion of consumers who bring complaints to us to say they were told about the ombudsman by the business they complained to. The proportion of consumers who say that this is how they first heard about us increased by 11% during the year. We hope this reflects a sharper focus by some businesses on improving their customer service and complaints-handling. Men are a third more likely than women to say they found out about us from the financial business.

There is more information later in this annual review about general levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service.

which newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman?

Our research with consumers who use our service clearly shows that the extent to which people find out about us by reading newspapers becomes increasingly important the older people are. Younger consumers and those from non-white ethnic backgrounds rely significantly less on national newspapers to find out about the ombudsman service.  

which newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman? %
regional and free papers (including Metro) 21
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday 21
The Times / Sunday Times 12
The Sun / News of the World 11
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph 9
The Mirror 6
The Guardian / Observer 6
The Express 5
Financial Times 4
The Independent / Independent on Sunday 3
The Star 2

Over the last three years we have seen a shift in the newspapers that consumers who use the ombudsman service tell us they read. The proportion of "broadsheet" readers has declined, with the Sun, the News of the World and Metro gaining ground. This seems to reflect the continuing shift in the socio-economic background of consumers who now use our service.

However, the newspapers that people tell us they read do not match exactly with the media that cover the ombudsman service most frequently.

which media cover the ombudsman most frequently?

Over the year more than half of all media coverage of the ombudsman service was online, rather than in traditional print format.

which media cover the ombudsman most frequently? %
Money Marketing * 5
The Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday * 4
thisismoney.co.uk 3
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph* 3
The Times / Sunday Times * 2
Financial Adviser * 2
The Guardian * 1.5
moneysavingexpert.com 1
BBC 1
other print publications 31
other online coverage 46.5

*print and online versions

Online coverage of the ombudsman service appeared on a very wide range of websites - run by voluntary and community groups, businesses and business networks, and government and public sector bodies - as well as the online versions of "traditional" newspapers and magazines. In addition, over 500 organisations now link directly from their websites to ours.

The media that covered the ombudsman service most frequently during the year included national newspapers, specialist business-to-business publications and consumer websites. There is more information about our work engaging with stakeholders such as the media further on in this annual review.

what's the socio-economic background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

year ended 31 March AB
professional and managerial
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled
DE
unskilled
2011 35% 57% 8%
2010 36% 57% 7%
2009 41% 53% 6%
2008 48% 47% 5%
2007 59% 36% 5%

Our analysis of the occupations of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman shows a steady socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service. In recent years, the proportion of complaints to the ombudsman from skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers has risen by 60%, while complaints from people from professional and managerial backgrounds have fallen proportionately by over 40%.

This shift may reflect the type of complaints that consumers refer to the ombudsman service - and the financial products and services involved. Between 2004 and 2007, up to two thirds of the complaints we handled related to mortgage endowments and were brought by mainly middle-aged homeowners.

But since 2007 we have seen significant increases in complaints involving current accounts, overdrafts, credit and payment protection insurance (PPI) - products which are held extensively by a broader socio-economic range of consumers.   

what do consumers from different socio-economic backgrounds complain about to the ombudsman? AB
professional and managerial
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled
DE
unskilled
payment protection insurance (PPI) 27% 34% 39%
current and savings accounts 22% 24% 23%
loans and consumer credit 22% 21% 17%
investments and pensions 17% 13% 12%
motor and household insurance 8% 7% 7%
other 4% 1% 2%

The order of financial products most complained about is identical across the different socio-economic groups of consumers. However, the relative proportion of complaints about these different products varies significantly.

For example, the proportion of complaints about current and savings accounts - and about motor and household insurance - is broadly similar across the three groups. But the proportion of complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI), and about investments and pensions, differs substantially for consumers from AB and DE backgrounds.

"... we have seen significant increases in complaints about credit and PPI - held extensively by a broader range of consumers"

what's the occupational background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman? %
skilled trades (eg electricians, plumbers, mechanics) 33
managers and officials 19
professionals 16
administrative and secretarial 16
process and plant work (eg machinery operatives, assembly-line workers) 5
personal services (eg care assistants, dental nurses) 4
sales and customer service 4
"elementary" occupations (eg hotel and bar staff, farm-workers, postal workers) 3
occupation %
employed 49
retired 26
self-employed / running own business 15
studying 1
other 9

During the year we saw a small rise in the proportion of consumers referring complaints to us who worked in factories and in sales and customer service.

While the number of people who said they were employed fell slightly - by 6% - the proportion of our customers who told us they were self-employed increased by 15%. And there was a 29% rise in the number of people referring complaints to us whose lifestyle could not easily be categorised along the traditional lines of "employed", "self-employed" or "retired".

"we saw a 29% rise in consumers whose lifestyle could not be categorised as employed, self-employed or retired"

The socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service also reflects the focus of our outreach work with groups whose knowledge and use of us is lower than average. This work aims to help raise awareness of the right to bring financial disputes to the ombudsman service. There are more details later in this section about our awareness-raising and accessibility work.

As part of our commitment to diversity and equality, we closely monitor the outcome of the complaints we resolve at the different stages of our process - to ensure we are treating everyone fairly and equally. The results of this monitoring continue to show that the proportion of cases we uphold in favour of the consumer is broadly consistent across groups of consumers from a wide range of backgrounds.

accessibility and diversity

Being accessible is something we take very seriously. We see this as part of our commitment to treating everyone we deal with equally. Someone's background or ability should not act as a barrier to having their complaint considered fairly and impartially.

Similarly, we see diversity as an asset that helps deliver our vision of a service that meets the needs of all our customers and stakeholders. We work towards an "equality and diversity standard" in the way we provide our service - to help us identify and overcome any barriers that could:

  • prevent potential customers from accessing our services; or
  • work to the detriment of those already using our service.

"... background or ability should not be a barrier to having a complaint considered fairly and impartially"

Our high-level strategy on diversity and equality - published on our website - is set and monitored by our board and executive team. Operationally, our work in this area is co-ordinated and championed by our customer service taskforce which brings together senior staff from all areas of the ombudsman service.

During the year we continued to work with a range of external partners specialising in this area. These included:

  • a leading "equality consultancy" - providing us with ongoing strategic and practical advice in the role of a "critical friend"; and
  • eight disability, mental health and wellbeing charities - including the Samaritans, British Dyslexia Association and Alzheimer's Society - who provide training for our staff on disability issues.

Our in-house customer service group - made up most commonly of front-line staff across the ombudsman service - also carries out a range of activities, to help keep us focused on the fact that each customer may have individual needs to be taken into account. One of the key activities organised by the customer service group during the year was the launch of our latest disability-awareness and customer-service programme.

The customer service group has also provided input and guidance on a number of equality impact assessments that we carried out during the year, covering areas such as:

Over the following pages we highlight key areas where, following research and analysis, we have prioritised specific outreach and awareness-raising activities during the year - or adjusted our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

disability

18% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year told us they had some form of disability - most commonly mobility difficulties. This is broadly in line with the number of disabled people in the UK estimated by the government's Office for Disability Issues.

disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
mobility difficulties 21
arthritis and manual dexterity difficulties 19
heart and circulatory problems (eg stroke) 12
organ and nervous-system disorders & disease (eg diabetes, MS) 11
hearing impairment 9
respiratory and breathing difficulties (eg asthma) 8
mental health issues 5
sight impairment 4
learning difficulties (eg dyslexia) 1
other 10

Many of our disabled customers do not ask for - or require - any adjustment in the way we deal with their case. But we ask all consumers when they first contact us whether they would like us to adapt the way we communicate with them, to meet any particular needs they may have.

"... 1,200 staff took part in our customer-service event, focusing on mental health issues"

Our staff all receive training to help promote their confidence in dealing sensitively and practically with customers' different needs. This included 1,200 staff taking part in our "aiming high" customer-service event during the year - with a focus on learning disabilities and mental health issues. This built on the successful different-needs awareness-event we held for all staff in the previous year.

Our work promoting our services for disabled people during the year led to a doubling in the number of cases where we provided information for customers in alternative formats - such as in large print and Braille, and on CD. We also continued to use Text Relay (formerly known as "TypeTalk") and "accessible text" (sometimes also called "EasyRead").

meeting customers' different communication needs %
large print 51
audio CD 17
using colour-tinted paper 9
Braille 6
audio cassette 3
British Sign Language 1
meeting different needs in other ways 13

We aim to take a flexible approach in cases where a particular disability makes it necessary to adapt our more usual means of communicating with customers. There are some examples earlier on in this annual review of cases where there was no ready-made solution.

To be able to better understand the issues that disabled people face in dealing with financial services or making a complaint, we continue to take part in a range of disability events. During the year this included Naidex (the UK's largest event for homecare, disability and rehabilitation) held both at Birmingham NEC and the Excel Centre in London.

We also continue to work in partnership with Able - the disability lifestyle-magazine and website - to help raise the profile of the ombudsman service both as an employer and as a dispute-resolution service. And we featured in magazines including Disability, Disability Review Magazine and If only I'd known that a year ago, the guide to living with ill health, injury or disability, published by RADAR, the disability network.

consumers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds

Over the last three years we have seen a steady increase in the proportion of consumers using our service who define themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group. 12% of people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service said they had a non-white ethnic background (10.5% in the previous year).

As part of this figure we have seen various trends emerge over the last year:

  • The proportion of Black/Black British consumers using our service has increased (from 3% to 4.7%).
  • The proportion of Asian/Asian British consumers has remained broadly the same (4.7% compared with 4.3%).
  • The proportion of consumers from Chinese and other ethnic backgrounds remains stable (1.7% of consumers referring complaints to us).

what ethnic background do consumers come from who complain to the ombudsman?

% %
  non-white white
2011 12 88
2010 10.5 89.5
2009 9 91
2008 8 92

The proportion of consumers from non-white ethnic backgrounds who contacted us initially on our consumer helpline - for advice and guidance at an early stage - was broadly the same as the number who subsequently went on to pursue complaints with us formally.

However, consumers from non-white ethnic backgrounds were a third more likely than white consumers to complain directly to the ombudsman service themselves - rather than use a claims-management company to refer a complaint to us on their behalf. White and non-white consumers are equally as likely as to appeal their case to an ombudsman for a final decision.

38% of the complaints referred to us by Black/Black British consumers related to payment protection insurance (PPI) - compared to 27% of cases from white consumers and 19% of cases from Asian consumers.

During the year we again marked Black History Month with a feature in the official Black History Month magazine. We also placed a series of features and advertising material in influential Black women's magazines, Black Hair and Pride.

We continued our long-term partnership with ZEE magazine - as well as running advertising in The Asian Today (a free, multi-faith paper for people in the Midlands) and across a range of popular UK Asian websites, to maintain levels of awareness of the ombudsman service.

what ethnic background are our website users? %
White 78
Asian/Asian British 9
Black/Black British 5
Chinese 2
other 6

Targeting information about the ombudsman service for the Asian community by using web-based material and online advertising reflects the findings of our annual online survey - which continues to show a higher proportion of Asian consumers using our website than is the case for consumers from other ethnic groups. This is in line with research indicating higher levels of internet use among the Asian community more generally.

faith and religion

As part of our commitment to equality and diversity, we ask consumers about their religious or faith beliefs - in an optional question in our customer survey. This survey is entirely voluntary - and is completed by consumers anonymously after their case has been settled.

This information - like all the other details we collect relating to the diversity of our customers - helps us monitor whether we are handling complaints and making decisions fairly and impartially.

what faith or religion do consumers follow who complain to the ombudsman? %
Buddhist 1
Christian 65
Hindu 2
Jewish 1
Muslim 2
Sikh 1
other religion 1
no religion 22
prefer not to say 5

These figures are broadly in line with information about consumers' religious beliefs recorded in the 2001 UK census. However, we received:  

  • 7% fewer complaints from consumers who told us they were Christian; and
  • 7% more complaints from consumers who indicated that they did not follow any religion.

Our monitoring of the outcome of cases over the year shows that the proportion of complaints we have upheld in favour of consumers varies slightly between different religious groups. However, this clearly reflects the different financial products involved - and the different uphold rates for different products.

For example, consumers who tell us they have no religion complained the most about payment protection insurance (PPI) - which has one of the highest uphold rates as a product. This meant that consumers with no religion had a high proportion of their complaints upheld through out the year.

However, Jewish and Sikh consumers complained the least about PPI (only 9% and 10%, respectively, of their total complaints - compared with 35% of the complaints from consumers with no religion). This was reflected in a relatively lower uphold rate overall for these consumers.

younger consumers

The proportion of consumers aged between 25 and 34 who bring complaints to the ombudsman service is broadly in line with the proportion of the UK adult population as a whole. But the proportion of adults aged under 25 who use our service is only a third of the proportion of that age group across the UK.

This largely reflects the fact that people under 25 generally own fewer financial products than older, more financially-established consumers. But although younger people are significantly less likely to have investments and pensions, they are likely to have loans, credit cards and bank accounts - and to take out insurance for loans, travel, mobile phones, cars and motor bikes.

This is reflected in the complaints we do see from this age group - as shown in the chart below. This is the only age group where the financial product that was most complained about during the year was not payment protection insurance (PPI).

what do consumers under 25 complain to us about? %
current accounts 42
payment protection insurance (PPI) 14
motor insurance 9
credit cards 8
loans 8
other 19

In our consumer research, 23% of people under 25 said they had "had a problem with a financial product or service" - a higher figure than for most other age groups. But only 8% of these young people - significantly lower than for any other age group - said they had then gone on "to make a formal complaint against a financial company".

This appears to support the widely-held view that it is the "formality" of making a complaint - and the time involved in following the "official" procedure - that younger consumers find particularly off-putting.

But it may also indicate that problems faced by younger people - who will be new to using many financial products - can be more easily resolved by financial businesses, without escalating into formal complaints.

This may explain why consumers under 25, who initially approach us on our consumer helpline, are statistically less likely than people of other ages to subsequently refer a "formal" complaint to us. Younger consumers are also significantly less likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision, if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view.

"... younger consumers find the "formality" of complaining off-putting"

However, consumers under 25 are relatively more likely than consumers in most other age groups to complain to us directly - rather than through a claims-management company.

As part of our consumer research over the year, almost half of 18 to 24 year olds across the UK said they had not heard of the Financial Ombudsman Service. But awareness of our service among consumers aged between 25 and 34 was significantly higher - with 72% of people in this age group recognising our name.

We are particularly keen to focus on younger consumers - to help raise awareness of their right to complain and the role of the ombudsman. Recognising that younger consumers access information differently from older people, we continue to explore different ways of communicating with this age group - and we work with a range of specialist partners to get our message across. This includes:

  • Featuring tailored messages in youth publications such as The Festival Guide and The Gap Year Travel Guide.
  • Developing our internet presence on social-networking sites such as YouTube and Twitter - but keeping our social-media messages simple and low key, in line with advice from the young people we meet and consult with.
  • Taking part in events like the Gadget Show Live - to encourage young high-spending consumers to confront and deal with financial problems.
  • Supporting the UK national finals of the 2010 Young Consumers of the Year competition - as well as the finals of the Young Consumer Challenge, which helps young people with learning difficulties become better-informed and more confident consumers.

older consumers

Over a third of all consumers who referred complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were aged 55 or over - and over a quarter were retired. The proportion of people aged 55 to 65 who complained to us fell by 15% - but 42% more people aged over 65 brought complaints to us, with significantly more complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI).

"... 42% more people aged over 65 brought complaints to us"

Consumers over 55 are significantly more likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision, if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view. However, this largely reflects the types of financial products involved - with older people more likely to have more complex products such as pensions and investments, where more money may be at stake.

what do consumers between 55 and 64 complain to us about? %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 25
investments and pensions 24
loans 21
current accounts 18
motor and household insurance 7
other 5

A major focus of our outreach work is to remind older and retired people about their right as consumers to use the ombudsman service, should they have a dispute with a financial business. This work also helps us better understand the issues faced by older people in their dealings with financial services.

"... 64% of consumers aged over 65 told us they didn't have internet access"

Our research continues to show a significant divergence within the older age-groups between consumers who are capable users of technology and those who cannot, or do not, use computers and the internet.

32% of consumers aged between 55 and 64 told us that they did not have internet access - rising to 64% of consumers aged 65 or over. On the other hand, just 3% of people aged between 25 and 34 say they do not have internet access.

To reflect this difference in preferred communication methods, our strategy for communicating with older people includes:

  • Taking part in face-to-face events - such as the Caravan and Motorhome Show and the Retirement Show.
  • Featuring on "silver surfer" websites.
  • Focusing targeted messages through specialist publications - such as Retirement Today and Choice, the lifestyle magazine for people over 50.

the diversity of our own workforce

The average age of people working at the ombudsman service during the year was 35 - with employees ranging from 18 to 72 years old. Across our workforce as a whole, 54% are male and 46% female. Women account for 50% of our non-executive board, 50% of our executive team and 46% of our panel of ombudsmen. 17% of our employees are from non-white ethnic minority backgrounds.

consumer awareness of the ombudsman 

As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service, we continue to research levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.

levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service %
people who could name us, without any prompting 17
people who said they definitely knew of us, when they were told our name 45
people who said they may have heard of us, when they were told our name 16
people who didn't recognise our name or know who we were 22

Tracking differences in levels of awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups and communities is very important as part of our commitment to:

  • understand why some people do not know about us or use our service; and
  • identify where there could be barriers - which we could minimise or remove - preventing some people from bringing complaints to the ombudsman service.  

Over the last three years, levels of awareness of the ombudsman have increased steadily. 17% of the adult population is now able to actively name us, without any prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses.  

awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups of consumers %
men 80
women 77
18 to 24 year olds 44
55 to 64 year olds 92
Asian / Asian British consumers 60
White consumers 81
professionals and managers (AB consumers) 85
unskilled (DE) consumers 70
people in Wales 84
people in Northern Ireland 64
people in Scotland 80
people in England 78

This chart shows varying levels of awareness across different groups of consumers. Broadly speaking, those least likely to recognise our name or know about us are younger people and people from DE socio-economic backgrounds. 

There is more information about how consumers first hear about the ombudsman service earlier on in this annual review.

During the year we continued to run targeted consumer initiatives to help raise levels of awareness and use 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.

consumers who do not use our service

The results of our quarterly phone-based market research consistently show that around 15% of people say they have had a problem with a financial product or service. Around two thirds of these people say they went on to make a formal complaint to the financial business involved.

69% of people who told us in this market research that they had made a formal complaint to a financial business said they were satisfied with the business's response. This figure has been steadily declining over the last few years - from 75% in January 2009.  

However, the figure is still significantly higher than the proportion of those people who had initially contacted our own consumer helpline for advice on how to complain - and subsequently told us they remained dissatisfied with the business's response.

Of the people who said in our market research that they had remained dissatisfied with the business's response to their complaint, around a half took no further action. This meant they did not refer their complaint at this stage to the ombudsman service.

"... half of consumers who remained dissatisfied with a business's response to their complaint took no further action"

We are particularly interested in people's reasons for not pursuing complaints further at this stage - including using our service. We want to understand whether barriers - real or perceived - may exist in accessing our service, and where we need to target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities or adjust our casehandling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

why consumers say they did not pursue a complaint - even though they were dissatisfied with the business's response %
"I didn't think I would achieve anything" 38
"I found it too stressful" 17
"I found the business difficult to deal with" 13
"I had other more important priorities" 9
"I didn't think it was worth my time" 9
"It didn't seem worth it for the money involved" 4
other 10

Our research shows - unsurprisingly - that consumers who do not refer unresolved complaints to the ombudsman service are also those who are least likely to complain formally to a financial business in the first place. These are generally younger people, women, and consumers from the unskilled (DE) socio-economic group.

The majority of consumers who do not pursue complaints - either to the business in question or to the ombudsman service - say this is because they cannot see the point in complaining, find the experience too stressful, or are put off by the process involved.

We have carried out research during the year to help us better understand people's approach and attitude to complaining.

attitude to complaining

People's attitude to complaining - and the way in which they interact with our service - is significantly related to demographic factors, such as their age, gender and socio-economic background.

However, we recognise that there are factors that may affect people's approach and attitude to complaining - which may not be defined by, or limited to, specific demographic groups. During the year we carried out research to see how different personality types respond to situations involving complaints and complaining.

This research included a series of focus groups round the country, to find out more about how people feel about complaining - and how complaining affects their behaviour. This showed that, broadly speaking, consumers identify themselves as one of three distinct groups (or "segments") when it comes to complaints.

how consumers feel about complaining consumers in general consumers who use our website consumers who contact the ombudsman
"Complaining is a hassle, so I'd want to work out if it was worth it. If the process was easy, or someone else would take it on, then I'd go for it." 22% 23% 16%
"I generally don't like complaining. It can be quite stressful as it's my word against theirs." 22% 32% 19%
"I'd complain and give them a deadline to sort it out. If it wasn't sorted out, I'd take it further. I believe you need to go to the top to get a problem solved." 56% 45% 65%

These consumer "segments" appear to confirm a widely-held view that consumers who pursue complaints to the ombudsman service are more likely to be self-confident, determined and at ease when asking questions and expressing dissatisfaction.

Having this insight into how consumers feel and behave in relation to complaints is particularly important for us. It helps us make sure that our processes and procedures are easy to use and flexible - built around, and reflecting, our customers' needs - and that they help increase the confidence of consumers in the first two "segments".  

However, consumers can refer complaints to the ombudsman service only after they have already been through the complaints procedure of the business they are unhappy with. This means that attitudes and behaviour - on both sides - may already be entrenched before our involvement starts.

trust and values

Our consumer research monitors the level of trust that people have in the ombudsman service. Across the UK public as a whole, 70% of people say they would trust the ombudsman service.

This compares with 76% of people who say they would trust their local Trading Standards and 81% of people who say they would trust Citizens Advice. On the other hand, levels of consumer trust in financial services trade associations appear significantly lower - between 46% and 54%.

"... direct contact with the ombudsman service significantly increased people's trust in us"

10% of people who had heard about us - but not used our service - said they would trust us completely (compared with 27% of people who would trust Citizens Advice completely and 2% of people who would trust a financial services trade association completely).

But when people had directly experienced our service, their level of trust in us increased five-fold - with 50% of consumers trusting us completely at that stage.

During the year we carried out market research into how consumers understand and respond to our corporate identity, branding and values. This involved face-to-face interviews with a range of consumers on issues such as our name, our logo and the look of our website and publications.

The feedback from consumers was very similar to the results from the same research we had carried out eighteen months earlier. The consumers who were interviewed felt that the most important aspects of the ombudsman service are that we have the power to put things right and are free to consumers. They set less store by the fact that we were set up by parliament and have wide-ranging experience.

what people say is important to them about the ombudsman %
the ombudsman has the power to put things right 20
the ombudsman is free to consumers 19
the ombudsman is completely independent 18
the ombudsman is fair and impartial, looking at both sides 18
the ombudsman was officially set up by parliament 13
the ombudsman has over ten years' experience of settling complaints 12

We also asked consumers who took part in our market research for their response to the word "ombudsman". The following "word cloud" reflects how people replied. The bigger the typeface, the greater the strength of the response.

what consumers associate with the word "ombudsman"

referee judge power

authority umpire advice

problem

computers dispute

official government justice

help in the middle

law business suits

Following feedback from consumers as part of this market research - together with comments and suggestion from our industry panel - we also reviewed our consumer leaflet, your complaint and the ombudsman. The broad consensus - among consumers and businesses - was that people wanted fewer words and less detail, and more graphics and colour to help focus attention.

Taking account of this, we reduced the number of words in the leaflet by 20% so that there are fewer pages. We have also introduced full-colour graphics, to help "signpost" people through the document. We worked with the disability charity, the Shaw Trust, to make sure the leaflet is fully accessible and readable.

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

During the year the overall levels of positive and negative feedback from consumers - on the service we provide - were broadly similar to those we recorded in the previous year.

how do consumers who complain to the ombudsman rate our service? % of consumers who agree % of consumers who express no view % of consumers who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 75 13 12
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 70 10 20
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 61 14 25
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 51 16 33
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 70 9 21
we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends 74 9 17

There were improvements across four aspects of our service - including an increase from 47% to 51% in the proportion of people who agreed that we settle complaints within an acceptable length of time (and a corresponding decrease in negative feedback on our timeliness).

This reflects the improvement in the timeliness of our complaints handling over the year - with the 51% of people who were satisfied with the time it took us to settle their case closely mirroring the proportion of cases that we resolved in less than three months.

Making further improvements to timeliness next year remains a key priority for us. However, we expect that overall improvements in the time it takes us to resolve cases will be adversely affected by the delays and uncertain progress on large numbers of payment protection insurance (PPI) cases. This follows the British Bankers Association's judicial review of PPI-related matters and the decision by some businesses not to respond substantively to many PPI complaints.

The one aspect of our service where consumers rated us lower than in the previous year was the perceived fairness of our decisions. However, the 25% of consumers who disagreed that our decisions were fair and unbiased accounted for only half the total number of consumers whose complaints we did not uphold. This suggests that satisfaction with our impartiality and fairness is not entirely determined by the outcome of complaints (see below).

" ... 74% of people said they would recommend us"

During the year 74% of people whose complaints we handled said they would recommend us to family and friends - the same as in the previous year.

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

There is a strong link between the outcome of consumers' complaints and their feedback on the level of service we provided.

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

  • 88% gave us positive feedback on the level of service we provided;
  • 8% gave us negative feedback; and
  • 4% expressed no view.

In contrast, of those consumers who said they felt they had "lost" their complaint:

  • 51% gave us positive feedback;
  • 34% gave us negative feedback; and
  • 15% expressed no view.

Similarly, 91% of consumers who felt they had "won" their complaint said they would recommend our service. 56% of those who felt they had "lost" their case said they would do so.

This shows how people's personal experience of our service is significantly influenced by how they perceive the outcome of their own individual complaint. Even so, many of those who did not get the outcome they had hoped for still expressed positive views across a range of aspects of our service.

Unfortunately, we cannot please everyone. But seeking the views of those who have used our service is an essential part of finding out how we can improve.

our website users

During the year we recorded a monthly average of 225,000 visits to our website, www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk (210,000 in the previous year). On the busiest day of the year - when we published our last annual review - 11,581 people logged on to the website. And 413 people downloaded our complaint form on Christmas Day.

There is more information earlier in this annual review about how our website forms a key part of our front-line service to customers.

To find out more about our website users, we run a web-based user-survey over a three-month period each year. Key findings from this year's survey showed that:

  • 68% of people were first-time visitors and 32% had been on our website before.
  • 59% of users were male and 41% female;
  • 71% of users said they would definitely visit our website again and 22% said they would probably do so.
  • 30% of people said they came to our website specifically to find information on how to complain and 27% said they were looking for our contact details.

Knowing what kinds of people do and do not access our website is very important for us. It helps us make decisions on its design and content. And it helps when assessing the most appropriate channels of communication to get our messages across effectively.

It also helps us in considering the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of engaging with customers and delivering our service.

what age are our website users? % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
under 25 3 3
25-34 21 15
35-44 23 23
45-54 25 25
55-64 21 17
over 65 7 17

The proportion of people aged 55 and over who use our website rose by 17% during the year - continuing an increase we have seen in the last few years. The proportion of older consumers who went on to refer a complaint to us also increased during the year.

However, we know that a significant number of older people still do not or cannot use the internet. 32% of people between 55 and 64 who use our service do not have internet access - rising to 64% of consumers aged 65 or over. Consumers over 65 are more than twice as likely to refer a complaint to us as they are to look at our website.

On the other hand, just 3% of people between 25 and 34 say they do not have internet access. And these consumers are around a third more likely to visit our website than to refer a complaint to us.

where do our website users live? % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
South East (including Greater London) 28 28
Midlands 15 19
North West 15 12
South West 12 9
North East 3 10
Scotland 2.5 9
East Anglia 6.5 5
Wales 6 5
Northern Ireland 2 2
outside the UK 10 1

Information from our online survey suggests that consumers in Scotland and the North East of England are substantially less likely to use our website than they are to refer complaints to us. On the other hand, more people in the North West and the South West use our website than actually complain to us.

These regional differences appear to be only partially explained by wider patterns of internet access (and broadband connections) across the UK. So we will need to monitor these trends and carry out more research to see what they may mean.

Our website also continues to attract a growing number of overseas visitors - including consumers around the world whose feedback shows that they are comparing our approach in the UK to resolving particular financial disputes with what happens about similar issues where they live.

how did our website users find out about the site? %
through an internet search-engine 59
from a financial business 24
through a link on another website 7
from a friend or colleague 10

During the year we saw an increase of a third in the number of people who said they found our website through internet searches - mostly using Google. This continues a steady increase we have seen over the last few years in the number of people using search engines to find our site.

Other websites from which people are most frequently referred to ours include bbc.co.uk, yahoo and moneysavingexpert.co.uk.

what stage are our website users at in pursuing their own complaints? %
only browsing at this stage 2
thinking about making a complaint to a financial business 32
waiting for a financial business to reach a decision on their complaint 7
thinking about referring an unresolved dispute to the ombudsman service 34
waiting for the ombudsman service to make a decision on their complaint 25

The number of people using our website who said they were only browsing fell sharply this year - from 10% of users to just 2%. However, the proportion of people who said they were thinking about complaining - either to a financial business or to us - increased from 53% to 66%.