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ombudsman news

issue 53

May 2006

ask ombudsman news

informal guidance needed …

The few complaints my firm has had until now have been very minor matters that we were able to sort out very quickly and entirely to the customer’s satisfaction. But we’ve now got a very tricky situation on our hands. We don’t think we’re to blame at all but the customer is adamant that we’re in the wrong.
I remember reading or hearing somewhere that you can advise firms on the handling of complaints before they reach the stage where the customer refers them to the ombudsman service. Is this true-

Yes. As well as resolving disputes, we do a lot of complaints prevention work with firms. Drawing on our experience of resolving hundreds of thousands of complaints, we can provide practical guidance. We will tell you whether we think you or your customer are on the right lines. In this way we can help firms nip potential problems in the bud – before they turn into full-blown disputes.

Firms can contact our technical advice desk for help or informal guidance at any time. You don’t need to wait until a customer has made an official complaint to your firm before you get in touch with us. The sooner you contact us to talk through what looks like a tricky situation, the easier it often is to sort out the problem informally at an early stage – saving time, money and effort all round.

Our website offers a wide range of information, including the answers to many frequently asked questions.

keeping it confidential …

I am sending you the information you asked for in connection with a complaint made against me by one of our clients. But I am concerned that some of it is quite personal. Can I rely on the ombudsman service treating the information in confidence, or will you automatically pass on everything I say to the client concerned-

We will have regard for your rights of privacy, and we do not automatically copy all the information we have on a case to both parties in the dispute. But in general, you should assume that we may disclose to the customer any information you send us about the complaint. And we will certainly need to summarise information that is central to our decision, as well as disclosing other information where we think it appropriate.

If you believe some of the information you send us should be kept confidential between you and the ombudsman service, you should mark that information clearly and tell us why you think we should not pass it on to the customer. We will consider your request – but we may not agree to it, unless there is a strong case for confidentiality, such as security reasons.

We take the same approach with information the customer gives us. By signing our complaint form, customers authorise us to exchange information with you about their complaint.

We have statutory power to require information from you – and this overrides any duty of confidentiality you may have to a third party.

Photo: Walter Merricks

ombudsman news issue 53 [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.