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ombudsman news

issue 77

May/June 2009

frequently-asked questions about the ombudsman service

Continuing our occasional series, we feature the answers to some more of the questions we are most-frequently asked by businesses about the way we work. You will find the answers to more questions in our guides for businesses and special resources for businesses.

what must my business do when it receives a complaint from a consumer-

The ombudsman service will get involved in looking at a consumer's complaint against your business only if you have already had the opportunity to deal with the complaint - and the consumer remains unhappy with your response.

Your business must have in place - and operate - an in-house complaints-handling procedure that complies with the complaints-handling rules. Among other things, these rules require you to:

  • send the consumer a prompt written acknowledgment (if you have not been able to resolve the complaint on the spot, or by the end of the next working day);
  • ensure you keep the consumer reasonably informed about the progress of their complaint; and
  • send the consumer a "final response" within eight weeks from the date your business received the complaint (as long as you have not already resolved the complaint by sending a response which the consumer has accepted in writing).

The time limits for dealing with a complaint apply from the date a complaint is received anywhere within your business. And a consumer (or someone acting on their behalf) is entitled to inform you of their complaint in a number of ways - for example, by email, phone or in person.

So businesses must make sure all relevant staff can recognise a complaint and know how their complaints process works. Businesses must also ensure that their complaints process is accessible for consumers with different needs - for example, because of a disability.

Full details of the time limits and other requirements are set out in the "DISP" section of the FCA handbook.

if a complaint about my business is referred to the ombudsman service, will you need written statements from my employees-

If a dispute between your business and the consumer involves different recollections of a key event, we may need to ask for a written statement from a current or former employee of your business.

If we ask for a written statement from an employee, setting out how they recall a particular event, the statement should be in their own words - and signed by them. They should distinguish clearly between what they actually remember doing and what they think they would have done in that type of situation.

We expect you to make reasonable efforts to obtain written statements from any employee who may have information relevant to the complaint - even if they are no longer working for you.

will it matter if my business can't let you have a copy of every item of correspondence we sent to the consumer-

We usually ask to see copies of any letters and other documents that are relevant to the complaint. We appreciate that some of your correspondence may have taken the form of standard letters, generated automatically by computer.

Where it is not possible to let us have a copy of an actual letter, we may accept a copy of the standard letter that was in use at the time - together with the computer record showing that the standard letter was definitely generated. Simply telling us the standard letter would have been generated may not be enough.

what about confidentiality-

We will have regard for your rights of privacy. We do not automatically copy to both sides all the information we have on a case. But, in general, you should assume that we may disclose to the consumer any information you send us about the complaint. 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 that some information should be confidential between you and the ombudsman service, you should mark that information clearly - and tell us why you do not think we should pass it to the consumer. We will consider your request - but we may not agree to it unless there is a strong case for confidentiality, such as security reasons. Our statutory right to demand information overrides your duty of confidentiality to any third party.

finding out more

The ombudsman and smaller businesses [PDF opens in new window] is a brief guide aimed at those businesses we cover that don't usually have much contact with us, as they don't generally receive complaints.

The ombudsman and larger businesses [PDF opens in new window] is a detailed guide aimed at people working in areas such as compliance units and customer service departments of larger financial services groups, who deal regularly with complaints and the ombudsman service.

You can obtain printed copies, free of charge, by contacting our publications team (phone 020 7964 0092 or email publications@financial-ombudsman.org.uk).

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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.