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Published 17 February 2021

What is the Financial Ombudsman Service?

The Financial Ombudsman Service, also known as the FOS, is an independent organisation that can help you resolve any disputes you may have with a financial company, after unsuccessfully trying to resolve the matter with the company first.

Most of us own some type of financial product. Chances are you’ve got several, including bank accounts, credit cards or insurance policies. Usually, these products deliver what we need, but occasionally things go wrong and we don’t get the service we expect.

Often the product provider can resolve your problem, but if not, you may need to call upon the Financial Ombudsman Service.

What is the Financial Ombudsman Service?

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is an independent body that was created by the government in 2001. The FOS aims to settle disputes between you and any UK-based financial company.

If you have a complaint you need to go to the financial company first, but if they don’t resolve the problem to your satisfaction you can then take your complaint to the FOS.

It is a completely free service and the FOS is a neutral third party. It will look at the complaint and hear your side of events as well as those of the company in question. If the FOS finds in your favour it has the power to order a company to put things right.

What does the Financial Ombudsman Service cover?

The FOS is there to help individuals, small businesses and charities to settle disputes with financial services companies.

Your complaint can be about:

  • Bank accounts
  • Credit cards
  • Debt collection
  • Irresponsible lenders
  • Insurance
  • Investments
  • Loans
  • Mortgages
  • Pensions
  • Savings accounts

Your complaint doesn’t have to be about a product, it can also be about the service that a company has delivered and whether it has treated you fairly.

However, if you have been scammed that is a case for the police, not the FOS.

For the FOS to step in the company in question must be overseen by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

If you aren’t sure if your complaint is covered get in touch with the FOS to find out.

How to contact the FOS

There are a number of ways you can contact the FOS.

Be aware that during the Coronavirus pandemic the FOS is warning its phone lines are extremely busy. It is also asking that you don’t contact them by post as FOS employees have very limited access to the office. The best way to get in touch is via its website or by email.

How do Financial Ombudsman Service complaints work?

Before you make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service you must try to resolve the problem with the company first. They have eight weeks to respond before you can go to the FOS (15 days for complaints relating to payment services and electric money).

If complaining to the company doesn’t resolve the issue you can then escalate your complaint to the FOS. You must do this within six months of your last contact with the company.

To start with you need to contact the FOS either by telephone or via its website. You will need to provide details of your complaint and any relevant correspondence and you will be assigned a caseworker who will investigate. How long your complaint takes to resolve will depend on its complexity and the speed at which all the necessary information is provided. The FOS says some cases can be sorted in a few weeks and two-thirds are wrapped up within three months. Some, however, may take much longer.

If the FOS agrees that the company you are complaining about is in the wrong – known as upholding your complaint – it has the power to force it to rectify the problem. This could involve asking it to apologise, refunding any financial loss you have suffered or asking it to pay compensation. The maximum compensation that can be paid is £355,000.

How far back can you complain?

You can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service either three years from when you knew you could make a complaint, or six years from when the problem occurred.

However, you must have contacted the company regarding your complaint within six months of going to the FOS. So, if you want to complain about something that happened more than six months ago you need to contact the company initially and allow them to resolve the dispute before you can go to the FOS.

What happens if I disagree with the FOS’s decision?

When you receive a decision from the FOS it is likely to have been made by your assigned caseworker. If you aren’t happy with the result you can ask for your dispute to go to an ombudsman at the FOS.

Once an ombudsman has come to a decision it is final. There is no further appeal process within the FOS and your only remaining option would be to take your case to court.

Image source: Getty Images

About the Author

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth is a freelance journalist with 15 years of experience writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites. Specialising in savings, investments, pensions and property.

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