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ombudsman news

issue 101

March/April 2012

tougher times make harder cases

It's pretty daunting reading newspaper headlines at the moment. Whether it's the fact that - in high streets across the UK - up to one in four shops are now empty and boarded up, or that there are now 2.7 million people out of work, the messages make uncomfortable reading.

We're seeing the impact of harder times here at the ombudsman service. At a time when family finances and job security are under more pressure than ever, the volumes of complaints referred to us by consumers have risen significantly in some key areas.

For example, complaints about debt collection are up 25% on last year. And mortgage complaints are up over 35% - as often more people face problems when they come off cheaper mortgage deals and find their interest payments rising.

But as everyone who deals with debt or money problems knows, harder times are affecting not just the number of complaints but also how people feel about complaining.

Many consumers are finding themselves in financial difficulty for the first time - and it can be very tough emotionally for some people to admit they're in trouble.

In the letters I see, people are getting a lot more emotional and angry about their case.

After all, if you're worrying where the money for next month's rent or mortgage payment is coming from, the £50 you think has been wrongly charged or unfairly deducted really starts to matter.

Of course, at the ombudsman service we're impartial - weighing up the facts and coming to a measured outcome. We don't rush to take sides - and we try not to be distracted by the charged emotions that complaints understandably stir up.

Sometimes we decide cases in favour of consumers, sometimes in favour of businesses. Those we don't agree with won't always like our decisions - and they tell us so in no uncertain words.

So it's true that as life gets tougher, settling disputes gets harder. But this just means that people need us more than ever - to make difficult decisions on complex cases in a difficult, complex world.

Natalie Ceeney
chief executive and chief ombudsman

image: ombudsman news issue 101

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.