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ombudsman news

issue 80

October/November 2009

a fair and reasonable assessment

Back in June 2000, in my first annual review as financial ombudsman, I set out our main aims as a new organisation:

to provide consumers with a one-stop service for dealing with financial disputes

At that time complaints about mortgage and insurance brokers and consumer credit providers were outside our remit, let alone complaints about payment services providers. We have now largely achieved the comprehensive coverage we aimed for - something consumers and the industry can now happily take for granted.

to resolve disputes quickly and with minimum formality

In creating the new single ombudsman service, we anticipated delays due to the effects of transferring staff from our seven predecessor ombudsman schemes, and due to the new location and the introduction of new systems and processes. What I did not anticipate was that, within a year, mortgage endowment complaints would constitute a third, and then a half, and then two-thirds of our increasing caseload.

This and other surges of "single-issue" complaints have affected our service timescales, but we have largely managed to avoid an overly formal and legalistic process - while dealing with a four-fold increase in our workload.

to offer user-friendly information

We committed ourselves to dealing in as helpful way as possible with the large number of enquiries we would receive from people who had not completed the firm's own internal complaint procedure. In addition, we said we would provide advice and help for complaints-handling staff within firms. Last year half of the consumers who contacted our helpline were subsequently able to resolve their complaint by themselves, 94% of them saying our involvement had helped them sort things out.

to make consistent, fair and reasonable decisions

In the early days, consistency meant harmonising the sometimes different approaches of the former schemes. But we also undertook to make the industry aware of how we would approach commonly-encountered situations. Our website now includes a wealth of information, and our transparency plans envisage significant expansion in this area.

to be accessible for disadvantaged and vulnerable people

We regularly provide information about our service in over 40 languages, and check with all consumers whether they would like us to adapt the way we communicate with them. Our accessibility offering matches, and in some ways exceeds, that of many other public services.

to be cost-effective and efficient; to be seen as good value

Over the last seven years, our unit cost of resolving complaints has averaged out at under three-quarters of the unit cost we inherited from our predecessor ombudsman schemes.

to be trusted and respected by consumers, the industry and other interested parties

Two-thirds of businesses we surveyed last year think we provide a good dispute-resolution service - despite the fact that we upheld 60% of complaints in favour of consumers. Even 42% of the consumers who felt that they had "lost" their complaint were satisfied with the way we handled it.

I leave the Financial Ombudsman Service conscious of the many challenges that lie ahead, but confident that these aims provide a sound set of objectives against which this organisation can judge itself in the years to come.

Walter Merricks
chief ombudsman

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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.