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.

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 treat their customers fairly and abide by its rules on how to deal with customer complaints.

There is a specific set of steps that you should follow when complaining to a financial company, and if you aren’t happy with the outcome you can escalate it to the Financial Ombudsman service.

The Financial Ombudsman Service is an official body that helps consumers resolve disputes with financial companies.

Here’s what you need to do if you have a complaint.

1. Complain to the company first

If you’ve got an issue with a financial company, the first step you need to take is to complain directly to the company. Generally, any company that’s regulated by the FCA, will need to respond to your complaint in line with the following rules:

  • 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.

There are shorter time limits in place for specific services. According to the Ombudsman Service, a business has 15 days (but sometimes up to 35) 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 card.

Within these deadlines, the financial company you’ve complained to should investigate your complaint and send you a reply in the format of a ‘final response’ letter. This letter will outline their findings, and what action they intend to take (if any) and will also tell you that you can approach the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) within six months of receiving the letter if you’re not happy with the outcome.

Make sure you keep this final response letter as you’ll need it to file your complaint with the FOS. If the financial company you’ve complained to didn’t send you a letter, you can still complain to the FOS, but it’s usually easier if you have the letter.

2. Complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)

If you aren’t happy with how a financial company has handled your complaint, or you think the outcome of your complaint isn’t right you can take your complaint to the FOS.

You have six months from the date of receiving your ‘final’ letter from the financial company to make your complaint.

Check if you can complain

The FOS can deal with any company regulated by the FCA including banks, insurers and brokers, pensions providers, credit card companies, financial advisers, stockbrokers and investment companies, hire purchase providers and pawnbrokers as well as money transfer companies (but not currency brokers).

You can check whether the company you’re complaining about is regulated by the FCA here.

Generally, the FOS can help with complaints about:

  • Home, motor, travel, wedding and other types of insurance
  • Bank accounts, payments, cards, cash machines and other banking services
  • Fraud or scams
  • Mortgages
  • Loans and other credit, like car finance, or debt collection and financial difficulties
  • Investments
  • Pensions and annuities
  • Pre-paid funeral plans
  • PPI
  • Claims management companies (CMCs).

The FOS also has a complaints checker that you can use to see if they can help you with your complaint.

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.

Place your complaint

To start your complaint with the FOS you’ll need to fill out their online complaint form.
It’s a straightforward process that will ask you to outline your complaint, the response from the business you’ve complained about, and any information about what’s already happened. You’ll also need to provide contact information as well as any documents that can support your complaint.

It’s worth noting that you can’t save your form and come back to it, so it can be useful to gather the following pieces of information together beforehand. To fill out the form, you’ll need:

  • The name of the financial company you’re making a complaint about
  • The dates of the correspondence you’ve had with the business, including the date of its final response
  • Your account or policy details that the complaint relates to.

You should hear back from the FOS within 10 working days after submitting your complaint and they’ll double check the information you’ve sent them and give you a case reference number.

3. Wait for the FOS to investigate and make a final decision

This step is fairly hands-off if you’re the one making the complaint. Once you’ve submitted your complaint to the FOS, they will reach out to the company you’ve complained about and ask for their version of events.

The FOS will then either come to an agreement with the company you’ve complained about to reach the outcome you’re looking for, or they won’t agree. If the FOS and the company can’t reach an agreement, the FOS will carry out a full investigation into the complaint before making a final, legally binding, decision on it.

The timeline for this decision will vary and the FOS has come under scrutiny in recent years because of extended waiting times.

The FOS says that generally, once a complaint has been submitted, it takes two to three months for it to be allocated for investigation. Once your case has been allocated, your case handler will reach out to you within 90 days to give you an initial assessment, and then your case handler will keep you updated on timelines moving forward.

Last year, 35% of the complaints made to the FOS’ were upheld, but the rates vary considerably between the different financial products being complained about.

Tips on complaining

For many of us, by the time we make a complaint, we’re pretty fed up and want to vent our frustration. But remember that some of the most effective letters/emails of complaint are those that are clear, calm and logical.
When complaining make sure you:

  • Keep documentation of all communication and supporting information – it might feel like overkill, but keeping track of times, dates, names of people you’ve spoken to, policy reference numbers and transaction IDs can help support your complaint. If asked to provide any of this by the company you’re complaining about it can be a good idea to send copies of documents, rather than the originals
  • Be concise – list what happened clearly and succinctly and try not to include any details that aren’t completely relevant to the situation
  • Be clear about what you expect as an outcome – 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.

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