When you have a complaint about a loan, credit card, mortgage, pension or insurance and you can’t get it settled with the company, send the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
Your complaint will be investigated by one of our case handlers, who will try to understand what happened and if the business did anything wrong. Your case handler will let you know the outcome based on what they think is fair and reasonable. If either you or the business disagree with this, you can ask for a final decision from an ombudsman.
This article looks at this in more detail, so you feel prepared. All types of cases go through the same general processes.
Don’t worry about the number of points – most people will be unaware of many of them! But they are here in case they crop up in your case.
Before it goes to the ombudsman
FOS will only look at a case after you have complained to the company and the company has had the chance to try to resolve your complaint.
You can send a case to FOS as soon as you have a Final Response from the company to your complaint. If you haven’t had a response after 8 weeks you can send the complaint to FOS without waiting any longer.
(The exception here is complaints about payment services such as Open Banking, where a complaint can go to FOS after only 15 days. The company will tell you if this 15 day limit applies to your complaint.)
After a Final Response from a company you have to take your case to FOS within 6 months. After 6 months it would only be considered in exceptional circumstances eg if you had been seriously ill.
You can send the complaint to FOS online, on the phone or by completing a form and posting it:
- you can attach the Final Response from the company (if you have one) and other documents that you want FOS to look at;
- it is often convenient to use the complaint you sent to the lender as the starting point and add a summary if it is long;
- for PPI complaints, there are a separate series of questions you will be asked.
This is an easy procedure. You don’t need to use legal language or mention laws the company has broken. Just say what happened and why you feel you haven’t been fairly treated by the company. Ombudsman statistics show that using a Claims Management Company doesn’t make it more likely you will win your case.
FOS – case preparation
First FOS checks it can consider the case. This is usually easy but:
- FOS only looks at some sorts of “financial” complaints. See this Citizens Advice page which lists different sorts of Ombudsmen for other complaints;
- if the company isn’t based in Britain, FOS may not be able to look at the complaint even if it is a subject they cover;
- some or all of your complaint may be outside the time limits FOS has. This has been delaying many payday loan affordability complaints, but FOS has now decided it can look at loans that are more than 6 years old.
Then FOS asks the company for their record of your case. FOS may also ask you for more information – for example you will be asked for a credit report and bank statements for payday loan affordability complaints.
When FOS has all these, your case is ready to be looked at. How long until your case is allocated to an adjudicator depends on the type of case it is. Some may be very quick, others such as PPI and payday loan refunds can take months.
FOS – adjudicator level
Adjudicators, sometimes called case handlers, are the first level decision makers at FOS. The job of the adjudicator is to look at your complaint and what the company says about it and consider if the company has done something wrong. And if it has, to say what should be done to put this right.
Some adjudicators seem more friendly than others. Here is what one person said:
I had to re send some [bank staements] of mine but my adjudicator has been in touch with me via phone call and email . He is wonderful and has explained everything of what he is doing. He said he hopes to have a decision within 2 weeks
Others get straight down to work and only send you questions. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the decision you get in the end!
Sometimes the adjudicator will decide they have all the details they need and make a decision quickly. Today, while I was writing this, a reader left a comment saying;
The adjudicator (once it had been assigned to him) got back to me within 1 day with the decision!
That is unusually speedy. It will normally take a few days or weeks if the case is long or if the adjudicator asks you or the firm about something and has to wait for the reply.
The adjudicator writes a preliminary decision, asking you or the company to explain if you disagree with it or if there is any more information you would like taken into account.
Don’t give up if the decision isn’t what you were hoping for. Read it carefully and reply saying why you disagree – adjudicators do change their minds at this point! It is easier and quicker to go back and make points here than to ask for the case to go to an ombudsman.
This can go on for while with you and the company making new points and the decision changing to take account of them.
Then the adjudicator issues their decision. If both you and the company accept it, that is the end of the case. This happens in 90% of cases.
Some complaints go to the second level
If you or the company disagrees with the adjudicator, the case will go to be looked at by an ombudsman, see below.
The adjudicator’s decision always says that ombudsman is likely to agree with the adjudicator. It doesn’t mean your case is particularly strong (if you won) or weak (if you lost).
If you don’t like the decision, try to read it through and think if it was a fair decision. If you don’t think the adjudicator understood your case or something important was missed, it is worth going to the next stage. In 9 out of 10 cases the adjudicator’s decision is upheld but that isn’t always!
If you disagree with the adjudicator’s decision, reply saying why in as much detail as you can. Ask for your comments to be passed to the ombudsman that will look at the case. This may be the last chance you get to explain your position.
Where you were happy to accept the adjudicator’s decision as a reasonable compromise but the company disagrees, tell the adjudicator if you want the ombudsman to consider improving the decision. For example if the adjudicator said you should have a refund on loans 8-14, you could ask for loans 3-7 to also be considered by the ombudsman for a refund.
FOS – ombudsman level
An ombudsman is a senior decision-maker at FOS. You normally keep the same adjudicator through this second stage and still communicate with them, not directly with the ombudsman.
The ombudsman looks at your complaint from scratch – this isn’t a quick check to see if the adjudicator missed something. But it often goes through very quickly because by now the case is normally well organised with a clear timeline of what happened when.
If the ombudsman decides to change what the adjudicator said, a provisional decision will be issued. Once again you and the company have a chance to comment on it.
In most cases the ombudsman agrees with the adjudicator’s decision. Then a Final Decision will be issued straight away because you and the company have already had the chance to comment on it. That’s why you need to get any points you want the ombudsman to consider to your adjudicator before an ombudsman picks up the case.
A Final Decision from an ombudsman is legally binding on the company. There are no more appeals they can make and they can’t go to court.
In the VERY rare event that the company ignores it, first talk to your adjudicator. See Won your Financial Ombudsman case but worried you won’t be paid? which looks at this.
Ombudsman decisions are published here, but your name and details are not given.