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ombudsman news

issue 125

May/June 2015

Q&As

I work for a motor dealership - and none of our customers have ever complained to the ombudsman. But if they do, will we get charged a case fee even if we're in the right?

Our case fee is technically chargeable for every complaint that’s referred to us - whatever the outcome.

But - importantly for the smaller businesses we cover - since April 2013 we’ve only charged a case fee for the 26th case - and each one after that.

This meant that over the last year, nine in ten of the businesses whose customers referred complaints to us didn’t pay any case fees at all.

We appreciate that for businesses who don’t have much contact with us (if any at all), the prospect of having a customer complain to us about them can be daunting. That’s why we try to meet as many smaller businesses as we can - so we can answer their questions face to face. In fact, earlier in the year we held events for smaller businesses dealing with complaints about consumer credit - to share what we see and give tips on how to get problems sorted early on. If you'd like to meet us, you can find out on our website when we’ll be nearby.

As a service for everyone in the UK, do you have any plans for regional offices?

We sort out problems through conversations with people using the phone, web chat, email and traditional post. By offering all these different channels for communication, people can contact us in a way that suits them best.

And because we can resolve most problems informally - listening to each side and asking questions if we need to know more - there's usually no need to meet in person. The fact that we don't normally require official hearings, or make people visit us in person, is a key part of our running an informal and cost effective service.

However, given what we know about some people's everyday lives and livelihoods, we recognise that it's face-to-face conversations that are sometimes more likely to give those in vulnerable and precarious circumstances the reassurance and support they need. We also know that meeting people face to face - consumers and businesses - is a powerful way of building trust and helping people solve problems themselves, quickly and pragmatically.

The people and businesses we meet and help this way - using outreach to share resources and build partnerships at grass roots across local networks and communities - tell us that this approach can be a lot more effective, and engaging, than just running a "satellite" office.

You can read more about our UK-wide outreach - for businesses and community groups - in our recently published annual review. And there's more about the new services we're developing in the interview with Garry Wilkinson in ombudsman focus.

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ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.