What is the Ombudsman?
If you have a complaint against a financial institution such as a bank or insurance company, you should first complain to that company. If you are not happy with their response or they take longer than 8 weeks to reply you can then take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
This service is a very useful port of call for resolving your complaint. The process is straight forward and informal and can be dealt with via email or letter (there is also the possibility of speaking with the Ombudsman or Adjudicator).
The emphasis is on fairness between the parties although legal rights and obligations still have a place.
The Ombudsman can also award interest on your financial loss at 8% per year. This can often amount to a significant sum if your award is large or has been outstanding for several years.
Limit on Financial Ombudsman’s awards
The maximum the Ombudsman can tell a company to pay is £150,000 plus any interest and such an award would be enforceable. If the loss is more than this the Ombudsman can recommend the company pays the full amount but any amount over £150,000 plus interest would not be enforceable.
Once you have an award in your favour it usually binds the financial institution and you just need to accept the award. If you don’t want to accept it you could still take your claim to court but would probably need legal advice to consider the risks of doing so as the all the issues will be back in dispute and a court might not find in your favour.
If you do accept the award you cannot then go to court to “top it up” (eg say the Ombudsman awarded you £20,000 out of a £50,000 claim, you accept the £20,000. You would be prevented from going to court to try and recover the “other” £30,000).
The Financial Ombudsman does not usually award legal costs.
Enforcing Financial Ombudsman Decisions
If the company does not abide by the Financial Ombudsman’s decisions they are enforceable through the courts under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (section 228(5) and paragraph 16 of Schedule 17). You need to apply to the court for the award to be made a court order that can then be enforced in the usual ways (eg appointing bailiffs).
The form you will need will be N322B this is the form for simple financial award (where no permission is needed to get the court order); or Form N322A which is for awards that require permission from the judge such as conditional awards where the judge would need to be satisfied that the condition that the tribunal set has been met or not. At the time of writing this page, there is no court fee for N322B but there is a fee for N322A. If you go on to seek enforcement of the court order there will be other court fees to pay. These fees are contained in a court guide reference number EX50.
You may wish to use us to help you make your complaint. or help with enforcing Ombudsman awards.
Other “Ombudsmen type” services
There are many other Ombudsman Services available for a wide variety of disputes and complaints. The helpful thing is that most of these are informal and free to use.
1. ABTA – Association of British Travel Agents – resolves travel and holiday disputes of ABTA members, cover UK and cross border, non-binding
2. BVRLA – British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association – car rental, leasing, rental brokers, leasing brokers, domestic and cross border disputes, decisions binding on members
3. Furniture Ombudsman – see my earlier blog
4. Retail Ombudsman – see my earlier blog
5. Ombudsman Service – see my earlier blog
6. Motor Codes Ltd – vehicle warranty products, vehicle service and repair, new car purchases, trader must be a member, non-binding.
7. National Conciliation Service – sales and service contracts for motor vehicles, domestic and cross border disputes, conciliation and mediation non-binding, adjudication binding on trader, arbitration binding on both parties.
8.Pro-Mediate UK Ltd – nominal fee to use, contractual disputes between businesses and customers including retail, non regulated professional and construction services. Non-binding.
9. Renewable Energy Consumer Code – disputes over the installation of renewable energy systems, domestic and cross border disputes, no fees, binding on traders who are members of the code, arbitration also binding otherwise non-binding. Will not handle disputes if consumer has not given reasonable opportunity to trader to resolve.
10. Small Claims Mediation – £30 fee, all small claims generally worth less than £10,000, domestic and cross border disputes, binding once any agreement to resolve the issue is put in writing and signed by both parties.
These are the ones approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, there are likely to be other bodies offering similar services who the trader could choose to use. None of these options are currently compulsory and you can always decide to use the court process.
For advice or assistance call Nick, a senior solicitor on 01925 759 510 or fill in the contact form at the side of this page.