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ombudsman news

issue 64

September/October 2007

ask ombudsman news

courtroom tactics-

I sometimes advise small businesses on what they should do if a customer complains to the ombudsman service. The owner of one of these businesses said he thought it would be unwise to tell the ombudsman service the whole story at the outset of an investigation.

He suggested that businesses should, instead, try and keep back one or two "killer facts" and reveal them at the last minute to try and improve their chances of winning the case. I would be interested in your view on this.

a compliance consultant

Tactics of that kind sound rather more suited to a fictional courtroom than to the ombudsman service. Our process is an open, straightforward and informal one - and we reach decisions on the basis of the facts and merits of each individual case.

We get to the bottom of most complaints by writing to or phoning the people involved - and our approach generally involves mediation or conciliation - not formal investigations, legal submissions and cross-examination. So businesses should provide us with all relevant information - as soon as we ask for it. Neither side to a dispute has anything to gain from holding back any facts or arguments "for later". We provide plenty of opportunities for both sides to discuss the facts of the case with us and to explain any concerns they may have if they are unhappy with our initial, informal view.

But once we have reached the final stage - an ombudsman's decision - that's the end of our process. Any business that waits until then to present certain facts or arguments will have left it too late. A final decision from the ombudsman is binding on a business - if the consumer accepts it.

flooded with complaints-

Has the ombudsman service received many complaints about insurance after the recent severe floods across the country-

a consumer advice agency manager

It is still very early for us to have got involved in any disputes between consumers and insurance companies arising out of these floods. Consumers with a complaint about something their insurance company has (or hasn't) done should let their insurer know why they're not happy - and give it the opportunity to look into things and put right any problems.

We don't step in unless the customer remains unhappy after the insurer has had a chance to investigate the complaint - which can take up to eight weeks.

Over the years we have built up a considerable amount of expertise in dealing with the complex issues that can sometimes be raised in connection with claims for flooding and similar household disasters. However, past experience leads us to be optimistic that relatively few complaints will be referred to us. This is because of the experience and competence of insurers in dealing with large-scale emergencies, combined with reasonable expectations and patience on the part of consumers, who know that many others are in a similar plight to their own.

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ombudsman news issue 64 [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.