This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

There is a standard process for complaints about financial services. It covers such issues as:

  • difficulties getting a mortgage
  • complaints about an insurance company not paying out
  • disputes about bank charges

This process is intended as an alternative to and cheaper approach than going through the courts. Customers may choose to pursue other options up until they accept a final binding decision in this process.

It’s essential to note that complaints that don’t follow each step of this process are likely to be rejected.

The process is basically the same for individuals and businesses (as well as many charities and trusts).

Starting a complaint

Many complaints can be resolved by discussing the matter with the company to clarify what the problem is and to determine the background.

If that doesn’t resolve the situation, the next step is to follow the company’s complaints procedure, which should appear on its website. This will normally ask for complainants to set out their concern and how they’d like to see it resolved.

Various agencies offer further advice about doing this, including:

The company should reply to the complaint within eight weeks.

If that doesn’t resolve the matter

If the financial business doesn’t meet the eight-week deadline or the reply isn’t satisfactory, individuals may complain to the independent Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), and businesses to the Financial Ombudsman Service for small businesses. (There is guidance about businesses that are eligible to use the service.)

Please note that complaints should normally be made within six months of receiving the reply from the company. That time limit may not apply in some cases.

The FOS has a very clear process set out on its website, as well as an online complaints form. They also have free helplines:

  • 0800 023 4567 for individuals
  • 0800 032 8000 for businesses, charities and trusts

The FOS will review the complaint. It describes the process as follows:

When we’ve reviewed everything you and the business have told us, we’ll let you know whether we think the business treated you fairly or not. We’ll always explain the reasons behind our view. If we think the business treated you unfairly, we’ll say what they need to do to put things right.

Both you and the business have a chance to agree or disagree with what we’ve recommended. At this point, if both you and the business agree with what we’ve said, the complaint is settled. Most of the cases we see are resolved at this stage.

If you disagree with what we said – and have more information that you think will change our view – let us know. We may change our view, or it might stay the same – we’ll tell you why either way.

The FOS also has a database of earlier cases and decisions. Please note though that all personal details remain confidential.

If the customer isn’t happy with the investigator’s response

Both the customer and the company have the right to reject the investigator’s recommendation and to ask for it to be reviewed by an ombudsman. They will consider the case again and issue a ‘final binding decision’.

And if the customer isn’t happy with the ombudsman’s final binding decision

If this happens, the customer is free to not accept it and to pursue their complaint through the courts or other means if they wish to.

Customers who aren’t happy with how the FOS has handled the case can take the case to court for a judicial review. But as the FOS explains:

A judicial review usually focuses on the process an ombudsman has used to make their decision, not on the facts and evidence of the dispute itself. You’d probably need to get legal advice before starting judicial review proceedings.

We publish more information in separate briefing papers:

This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

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