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Back to basics: how to complain about financial services

Tahmina Mannan
Written By:
Tahmina Mannan

If you are unhappy with a service you have received from a bank, insurance company or financial services firm, you can take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

However, the FOS will not starting looking into your case until the business in question has been given the chance to look into the problem and it has eight weeks to do so. 

Note that if your complaint is about payment protection insurance (PPI), then most banks have their own PPI complaints procedure set up especially to deal with these grievances.

If the business gets back to you and you are still unhappy with the solution it has provided, you can then approach the FOS to step in and take a look at your complaint.

The ombudsman can help with complaints against the following:

• banking
• insurance
• mortgages
• credit cards and store cards
• loans and credit
• pensions
• savings and investments
• hire purchase and pawnbroking
• money transfer
• financial advice
• stocks, shares, unit trusts and bonds.

Whether it can help with your complaint will depend on:

• whether the business you are complaining about is one that it covers;

• what the complaint is about (there are some restrictions on the types of dispute the FOS can look at, but this will depend on the complexity of the case so you need to complain before you will know if the ombudsman can help);

• when the event you are complaining about took place (there are time limits of when you can complain depending on how long you have left it before you complained); and

• your relationship with the business you are complaining about (for example, it will not always deal with disputes between businesses, or where you are not an actual customer).

Complainants should note that because some complaints go back a long way, the ombudsman may need to take account of rules that applied to former complaints schemes that no longer exist.

How do I make the complaint?

To file a complaint, you must first fill in the FOS complaint form which you can obtain here.

The ombudsman says it looks at each case individually and carefully therefore the time it takes can vary and depends on how complex it is.

As the service needs to obtain information to get to the bottom of your complaint, it can take months to come to a conclusion. The service says that some complaints like those made against mis-sold PPI can take over a year.

For more information on the claims process – go here.

What happens if the business is no longer trading?

If a business is no longer trading, the service may not be able to help you, however again this depends on each individual case.

A whole range of factors are taken into account – including whether the business is in a position to meet its financial commitments.

In the case of a Financial Conduct Authority-regulated firm, you may be able to make a claim using the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

The FSCS is the “final safety net” for customers of failed FCA-regulated firms. If you are happy for the FOS to do so it will refer your case – where appropriate – to the FSCS which will then contact you to explain how it may be able to help.

The FSCS has its own set of rules and criteria for handling customers’ complaints against failed firms.

The initial process…

In the first stage, your case will be referred to an adjudicator, who will review all documents submitted from both you and the business. 

You are advised to discuss matters with this person – and do this as early and as fully as possible. Don’t hold back your facts and arguments for later.

The person working on your case will have seen many very similar cases before – and will have a very good idea of how the ombudsman would be likely to view your case.

If you don’t agree with the initial assessment, tell the FOS your concerns. Set out your reasons and any new facts and arguments. If you remain unhappy you can “appeal” directly to the ombudsman. See below.

Note that a final decision from the ombudsman is legally binding if you accept it.

What if I’m not happy with the final decision?

If either you or the business do not accept the initial assessment of your complaint, either of you can appeal. This involves the case being reviewed by one of the FOS ombudsmen.

As mentioned before, an ombudsman’s decision on a case is final and is the end of their involvement in your complaint process. No ombudsman, regardless of seniority, can overturn the decision of another ombudsman.

If you are still unhappy with their decision you are free to take your dispute to court, however you should note that should the court not decide in your favour, you will still have to cover your own legal costs and possibly that of the business.