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ombudsman news

issue 41

November 2004

ask ombudsman news

inconsistent decisions- a financial adviser emails ...

Two separate clients complained about advice given by my firm to take out endowment policies. The advice was given in the same month, the product was identical and the sum assured was the same in each case. After looking into the complaints, my firm turned them both down. Both clients then took their complaints to the ombudsman service. One of the complaints was rejected by an adjudicator. But now a different adjudicator has upheld the other complaint. How can you explain such inconsistency in decision-making-

The fact that we may arrive at different outcomes for separate cases shouldn't be seen as surprising. This isn't a question of inconsistency - it's a matter of our looking at each complaint individually and making a decision on what we believe is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the particular case. There may be surface similarities between some complaints. But when we look at them in detail, we generally find very different facts and issues - reflecting the reality that everyone's personal and financial circumstances will be different.

We sometimes hear from people who compare case studies in ombudsman news with a personal complaint they brought to the ombudsman service - and then feel that we have been inconsistent. By necessity, summarising a complex case into a few hundred words for ombudsman news means we are rarely able to paint the full, detailed picture. Our purpose in ombudsman news is not to include every fact about a particular case - but to highlight key themes or issues that we hope will give a "steer" on our general approach in that type of case. Deciding complaints - like financial advice itself - can involve a complex balance of judgement, often based on a wide array of seemingly contradictory facts. The "right" outcome in one case will not automatically be the right answer in other "similar" cases.

information and help for firms

My firm has recently become covered by the ombudsman service for the first time. Can you tell me what we can expect if a complaint made against us is referred to you-

Take a look at the information and help for firms section on our website.

Among other useful items, you'll find our guide for firms, "an introduction to the Financial Ombudsman Service", which explains our role and gives a quick review of the ombudsman rules and procedures.

And don't forget our special events for firms in the mortgage and general insurance sectors.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news issue 41 [PDF format]

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.