Financial Ombudsman: Can we help you?

Natalie Ceeney Chief financial ombudsman Natalie Ceeney offers her top tips on pursuing a financial complaint

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The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) has been busier than ever. In the last financial year alone we dealt with more than a quarter of a million new cases.

We are a free service set up by law, with the power to sort out problems between consumers and financial businesses.

We can look at a wide range of issues and products, from mortgages to mobile phone insurance and pet insurance to payday loans.

And we can cover most issues to do with financial services.

It is usually best to give us a call, so that we can talk through with you whether or not we can help.

And if we cannot help, we will try to tell you who can.

Hurry up

If you do have a problem, you must first raise your concerns with the business involved as soon as possible.

There are time limits which apply when making a complaint.

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We are able to look at complaints about the suitability of products, or the appropriateness of advice”

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If a complaint is made too late, the ombudsman service may not be able to help.

You should complain to the business within six years of taking the product out or three years from first realising there was a problem.

This means, for example, that you would probably be too late to complain about the sale of a mortgage endowment you took out in the 1980s or 1990s.

If you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can refer your complaint to the ombudsman service.

But you must do this within six months of the firm's final response.

However, do let us know if there were significant reasons why you were unable to complain in time.

In exceptional circumstances we may still be able to look at the complaint.

But just forgetting, or being too busy at work, are unlikely to be exceptional reasons.

Other problems

The FOS was set up specifically to deal with complaints between consumers and financial businesses.

This means we are unable to look at complaints about public bodies.

FOS top tips on sorting out a financial problem

  • Be clear in your own mind what the problem is and how you would like it to be sorted
  • First contact the business you think is responsible and explain what has gone wrong
  • It can be a good idea to put your complaint in writing, and to keep a copy of your letter too
  • If you prefer to call, make a note of the time and date of the call, the details of what was said, and the name of the person you spoke to
  • The business has eight weeks to look at your complaint. If you remain unhappy with the firm's response - or you do not receive a response at all - you can then refer your complaint to us

As the largest ombudsman service in the world we are able to look at most financial matters.

But there are also other ombudsman services, such as the Pensions Ombudsman, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Energy Ombudsman.

While we often get calls about issues that are not within our remit, we have become very good at pointing people in the right direction.

So if you think we might be the organisation you need but you are not sure, give us a call and we will let you know.

And if we cannot help, we will try to tell you who can.

The FOS does not look at complaints which are purely about the performance of savings and investments.

Insurance folder Complaints about payment protection insurance have dominated the recent workload of the FOS

However, we do see a significant number of cases each year where the consumer is concerned that they were advised to invest in a fund or product which was too complex or too risky for them.

We also see complaints where the consumer believed the performance of their savings plan or investment was guaranteed - but it turns out this was not the case.

The FOS has the power to order businesses to pay compensation of up to £150,000, or £100,000 for complaints that were brought to us before 1 Jan 2012.

In most cases, however, we deal with much smaller amounts.

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The FOS is only able to handle complaints about businesses which are still trading”

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So our service may not suit you if your complaint is likely to be worth more than £150,000.

Another reason why you might prefer to take your complaint to court is if you want to inspect all the papers personally, ask your own questions or cross-examine us or the business.

Our service does not offer you that opportunity.

The FOS is only able to handle complaints about businesses which are still trading.

If the company you have a complaint about is no longer in business, then the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) may be able to help.

But this is a completely separate body and has its own set of rules.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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