How to complain about a financial company

Banks and other financial companies are often accused of fobbing off their customers, but there are ways to ensure your complaint is dealt with properly. 

All financial companies are supposed to treat their customers fairly (including how they handle complaints) and if they don’t, you can take your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman Service and ask them to take up your case. However, the Ombudsman itself has been heavily criticised by think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs for failing to deliver on its objectives of “providing fair and reasonable resolution of disputes at speed”. In response to the criticism, the Ombudsman says that it plans to tackle the current backlog this year and expects to receive 170,000 complaints and resolve 220,000.

Here’s what you need to know.

Your rights as a customer

All financial companies that are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have to abide by its rules on how to deal with customer complaints. They state:

  • Complaints must be dealt with within a specified time limit. Companies should investigate your complaint and give you a response within eight weeks.

  • If it’s a complicated complaint that requires a lot of investigation they must contact you and tell you that they need extra time.

By the eight week deadline you should be given information about the fact that you can take your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman Service. So, if the bank or insurer has contacted you and dismissed your complaint, offered you compensation that you think is too low or told you that it needs extra time, it must also tell you about the Financial Ombudsman Service.

There are shorter time limits in place for specific services. According to the Ombudsman Service, a business has 15 days to consider complaints about:

  • payment services – such as bank transfers or direct debits
  • electronic money – for example, online money transfers, Apple Pay or travel money cards

If they don’t get back to you within 15 days, or you’re not satisfied with their response, you can take your case to the Ombudsman here. They will be able to look into it on your behalf and will try to resolve the issue.

Tips on complaining

For many of us, by the time we actually make a complaining phone call or send a letter we’re pretty fed up and want to vent our anger and frustration. But some of the most effective letters/emails of complaint are those that are clear, calm and logical.

The free independent issue resolution service Resolver has some useful tips on how to complain about a company here. These include keeping careful records of who you spoke to and when keeping your complaint short and simple rather than going into too much detail.

Make sure you tell the company why they’ve fallen short of what you expected and what you’d like them to do about it.

  • Include relevant dates and other information. Include policy reference numbers, dates, transaction ID – anything that will help pinpoint exactly what you’re complaining about.  If you’re complaining about information you were given on the phone, include the date and (if possible) time of the call. Many companies record telephone calls and can trace them.

  • Send copies of paperwork. Never send originals. If the company you’re complaining about has sloppy or inefficient admin it’s possible it will lose your complaint and/or important documents.

Which companies does the Financial Ombudsman Service deal with?

The Financial Ombudsman Service can deal with any company which is regulated by the FCA. Generally this includes:

  • Banks
  • Insurers and brokers
  • Pensions providers
  • Credit card companies
  • Financial advisers
  • Stockbrokers and investment companies.
  • Hire purchase providers and pawnbrokers
  • Money transfer companies (but not currency brokers)

You have to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service within six months of getting your ‘final’ letter from the financial company.

If you’re in any doubt it’s far better to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service than not to do so. If it’s something that the Ombudsman Service can’t look at, you’ll be told.

Have you ever submitted a claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service and were you satisfied with their response? If you would like to share your experience you can join the money discussion on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.

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