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issue 72

September/October 2008

ombudsman focus: knowing our customers

This month's ombudsman focus provides a snapshot of what our typical customers look like - using data collected in the first six months of this calendar year (January to June 2008).

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman-

  • 4% are under 25
  • 15% are 25 to 34
  • 25% are 35 to 44
  • 25% are 45 to 54
  • 20% are 55 to 64
  • 11% are over 65

... and what gender are they-

  • 36% are female
  • 64% are male

Each year in our annual review we publish a wide range of demographic details about the consumers who use our service.

Collecting demographic data about the kind of consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman doesn't just give us a closer understanding of the types of people who use the ombudsman service. It also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is used less. This is important, because it helps to pinpoint where we need to carry out further research - for example, to see how we should prioritise specific outreach and awareness-raising activities, or where we may need to adjust our case-handling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

where do consumers who use the ombudsman live-

  • 30% live in the South East (including Greater London)
  • 19% live in the Midlands
  • 12% live in the North West
  • 10% live in the South West
  • 9% live in the North East
  • 7% live in Scotland
  • 5% live in East Anglia
  • 4% live in Wales
  • 2% live in Northern Ireland
  • 2% live outside the UK

The location of people who use the ombudsman service continues broadly to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

what's the occupational background of consumers who use the ombudsman-

  • AB (managerial/professional) 42%
  • C1 (supervisory and clerical) 20%
  • C2 (skilled manual) 20%
  • DE (unskilled manual/unemployed) 18%

Our recent policy statement on our strategic approach to accessibility, published in July 2008, included data on the socio-economic background of the consumers using our service. We pointed out that the figures reflected the fact that better-off consumers are likely to hold a larger number of financial products (and are therefore more likely to experience a problem that might give rise to a complaint).

Until recently, complaints to the ombudsman service have been dominated by financial products such as mortgage endowments, which have their own distinct demographic "profile" of mainly middle-aged homeowners. But this is changing, as our remit has recently extended to cover consumer-credit businesses. These businesses include, for example, debt-collectors, hire-purchase companies and cheque-cashers, whose customers may now have access to the ombudsman for the first time.

As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers using our service, we carry out research into levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.

According to a GfK Omnibus survey in May 2008, 74% of people said they were aware of the Financial Ombudsman Service. Organisations with similar levels of awareness included the Greater London Authority (70%), the charity Mind (73%), Which- (75%) and the London Olympic Committee (79%). The same survey showed that people trusted the Financial Ombudsman Service more than the Church of England but less than Citizens' Advice.

We also track how many people can actively name us on an unprompted basis. As part of market research carried out by ICM Omnibus, a cross-section of adults - selected to reflect the adult population of the UK as a whole - are asked the question below:

what's the name of the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial companies like banks, insurance companies and finance firms-

  • 10% said Financial Ombudsman Service
  • 9% said Financial Services Authority (FSA)
  • 7% said Citizens' Advice
  • 6% said other ombudsmen
  • 1% said Trading Standards
  • 1% said Consumer Direct
  • 11% said other
  • 65% don't know

This research includes monitoring how general awareness of the ombudsman varies between different demographic groups. For example, the proportion of people who can name us, unprompted, ranges from 4% (for 18-24 years olds) to 14% (for those in the 45-54 age bracket). Awareness is highest in the Midlands and South East and lowest in Northern Ireland (where we are about to launch a targeted awareness-campaign).

The types of businesses that people complain to us about are also recorded and analysed. We will be highlighting some of this data (which we publish in our annual review) in a future ombudsman focus.

image of ombudsman news

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.