UK consumers and businesses now have a clear set of rights that are protected by law. These rights ensure that they can buy with confidence, get trustworthy advice and obtain help with any disputed transactions.
Who champions buyers’ rights? That would be the Ombudsman Service.
This article explores ‘What is the Ombudsman Service?’ and provides a guide to making a complaint about a service or product.
Who Is the Ombudsman?
The name ‘ombudsman’ comes from a Swedish word for the agent of the people.
In a nutshell, an Ombudsman is a specialist who has been appointed to review certain kinds of disputes. They are tasked with providing an independent and impartial service. That means they are not taking sides and will look at the issue fairly from all angles.
This Ombudsman Service in the UK is free of charge. This is important as it enables individuals or organisations to tackle certain issues without being concerned about the costs of asking for a review.
Different Ombudsman departments deal with different areas of purchase. For example, there are ones for complaints about financial advice, energy consultation or health services.
The thing that they all have in common is that they can investigate a complaint. This could be a purchase that has been mishandled or a transaction that leads to unsatisfactory results.
The Ombudsman Service aims to find an amicable resolution to the dispute, which means finding a solution that suits everyone. The solution can take various forms, including compensation.
Incidentally, a transaction that is unfair or mishandled is sometimes referred to as ‘maladministration’. So you may hear that word used in relation to complaints submitted to an ombudsman.
When Can I Complain to the Ombudsman?
It is important to note that this service will help you when your efforts to deal with the issue directly have proved fruitless. You should always first contact the company or individual advisor you have a problem with and ask them to address your concerns using their own complaints procedure.
This could lead to a replacement, a refund or even compensation of some kind as an apology for poor customer service or below standard products.
If you have exhausted this route – or the company blocks your efforts to deal with the complaint – you can then ask the Ombudsman to get involved.
How Would the Ombudsman Service Help Me?
Much depends on the nature of your complaint. There are some issues that the Ombudsman would not be prepared to review.
How would you know if an issue is suitable to be progressed? In some cases, the Ombudsman will be operating under the law and will only take on issues in which your legal rights appear to have not been met.
However, some of the ombudsmen departments are governed more by a voluntary industry code of conduct. Therefore, they will take on cases when the complaint is about a failure to reach accepted standards in that particular trade.
The best way forward could be to fill in the form used to request ombudsman assistance and then see if you receive confirmation that they will take the case.
Then, this free and independent service for consumers has various ways of dealing with a problem, depending on the product area and the degree of seriousness involved.
What sort of complaints would the Ombudsman consider? It could be rudeness from a customer service worker, an unreasonable delay, misleading advice or inadequate or bias help, for example.
Once you have provided them with all the information about this complaint, they will launch an investigation. This will evaluate the matter and seek out a satisfactory conclusion. This will involve a decision based on the information you submit (more on this later) in some straightforward matters.
What Are the Steps in Raising an Issue With an Ombudsman?
First, you would need to find the correct department of the Ombudsman Service for your particular issue. This link leads to the Ombudsman Association, which provides information about the 20 different branches of this service.
There is also a lot of handy information on the UK’s Trading Standards website.
There are Ombudsman services who deal with private sector issues – which are problems you have with business transactions of some kind. There are also separate departments that look at public sector issues. In other words, you can complain to an Ombudsman about government-funded services too.
The list of Ombudsmen in the UK includes ones specialising in:
• Internet providers
• Public transport
• Social care
• Prison and probation
• EU issues
Each relevant department has its own website and a form to request that an ombudsman consider your issue. In most cases, you can find an online form for ombudsman help.
When you complete this form, you will be asked for letters and additional information related to your application. This will include any emails or other correspondence that have been exchanged between you and the subject of your complaint.
Remember, you will be asked what you had done so far to address the problem directly with the company or individual seller involved. The Ombudsman Service will also not become involved if you have already started legal steps to sort the problem.
However, if you have tried to deal with it yourself, the Ombudsman’s role is to help you to tackle it without the need for legal proceedings.
Each different ombudsmen department has its own rules and systems, so make sure you research those to progress your complaint smoothly. Sometimes, they will expect you to have tried to resolve the matter yourself for at least eight weeks. They may also ask for proof you have exhausted efforts to settle the complaint directly, which we explain below.
What Is a Letter of Deadlock?
In some cases, before they will progress your complaint, the Ombudsman will ask for a ‘Letter of Deadlock’. This is less technical than it sounds.
You write to the company or individual you have a problem with. In this communication, you make it clear that you feel that the matter is not being addressed properly. You request a letter from them agreeing that this is a ‘deadlock’ situation and that all negotiations are at a standstill.
Your letter should also make it clear that you intend to raise the matter with the Ombudsman Service. Wording should include that if they fail to respond to your request for a letter of deadlock within 14 days, you will take that silence to mean an agreement that the matter needs to be looked at by this impartial third party.
Also, if you can show that you have not heard from the company for more than eight weeks, this letter of deadlock may not even be required.
How Quickly Can a Complaint Be Sorted?
Keep in mind that this is not always a quick-fix solution for a complaint about a service or product.
Asking the Ombudsman to look into your consumer rights takes time; in some cases, many months. But, in some cases, when they ask the company in the complaint to respond to the dispute, that in itself is enough to make them want to offer you some form of compromise!
Talking of time, you should not delay your application for your complaint to be reviewed by the Ombudsman. If you wait too long before raising an issue about a product or service, you may find you have gone past the ‘cut off point’. This deadline for raising complaints is partly to stop people from addressing an issue a long time after the problem occurred.
Always check the rules with an ombudsman department to see if there is a time limit on progressing a complaint.
What Will the Ombudsman Do?
Using all the information you have submitted, the relevant department will review the complaint.
The reasons this could take a while include the high workload each Ombudsman has. It can also be a lengthy process if additional factors have to be considered, such as the testimony of others involved in the complaint.
It is important to be patient. The Ombudsman will address your issue as soon as it is practically possible.
At the end of the review period, the Ombudsman will decide if your complaint is justified and the other party was at fault somehow.
The outcome of this could vary enormously, depending on the nature of your complaint and what each party involves feels is a ‘just outcome’. However, if they think the company you are in dispute with has done something wrong, they will officially spell that out.
They can then request that the organisation does something to put matters right. In most cases, a company agrees to this ruling by the Ombudsman.
In some commercial situations, if they refused to action the Ombudsman’s recommendations, they would breach the law.
What Could Be the Result of the Complaint?
What the Ombudsman recommends can cover a lot of different scenarios.
It could be that you receive a written apology or a refund. In some cases, the Ombudsman can decide that monetary compensation is warranted. They can ask the company or individual who you named in the issue to pay you money for damages or loss.
As this is an impartial support service, the outcome is designed to be fair and binding. In other words, the Ombudsman will not base a decision on any kind of bias. But will instead look at the legal or regulatory obligations involved and whether they have been met properly.
Is there anything you can do if you disagree with the Ombudsman’s decision and the result of the case? There are some situations in which you can then progress to legal action of some sort, though generally, the Ombudsman is the way to resolve the issue. Particularly as a court may decide that the Ombudsman’s decision should be respected and upheld.
Ombudsman for Financial Services
One of the ombudsman service departments that is kept busy is the one dealing with financial advice and products. The Government established the Financial Ombudsman Service and awarded legal powers to address disputes between UK financial organisations and their customers.
Financial services are carefully regulated in the UK. You have a right in law to be ‘treated fairly’.
If this is not the case, the Financial Ombudsman Service has the power to investigate and make rulings that financial companies must adhere to. In some cases, this particular service can look at cases dating back up to six years!
As there is no cost involved, there is nothing to lose from asking this particular Ombudsman to look into your case, should you feel that some form of unfairness has happened.
However, here at Cobra Payday Loans, we aim to avoid the need for anyone to use the Ombudsman Service about a loan product.
We offer a high standard of customer service, and we are more than happy to discuss your individual needs and concerns and any issues you have with our loans going forward.
Our complaints procedure is easy to follow and makes it possible to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, though this is rarely needed!
Lastly, please take individual care in deciding whether our loan recommendations are right for your personal circumstances and ability to pay, particularly if you opt for quick short term loans. As we state in various places on our website, there are alternative forms of lending, some of which involve lower levels of interest.