Using the Financial Ombudsman Service

Written by Demetrius Vouyiouklis

financial ombudsmanI had a problem with my Cash ISA transfer with Santander and they had admitted error. During my  dealings with Santander, I had claimed compensation for time/effort/upset caused by them, in addition to putting my financial losses right. Although Santander eventually paid for the financial losses they had caused me, I felt that they had been rather ‘light’ with the amount of compensation for my time/effort/upset.

Since I had already contacted Santander to complain and their eventual decision had been final, I was entitled to have my complaint considered by the UK Financial Ombudsman Service. This service is ‘free’ (it’s paid for by the UK’s financial services sector through a combination of statutory levies and case fees) and it’s independent, meaning it takes no sides. The Ombudsman’s office has experience in similar matters, which is good if, like me, you’re coming up against a big bank for the first time. Furthermore, you are not bound by its decision, meaning that if not satisfied, you can take your issue to court. On this basis, I proceeded to the Ombudsman with my complaint.

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The procedure for using the Ombudsman service was quite painless. I simply had to fill in a straight-forward form and include all relevant documentation. I received an acknowledgement within two weeks giving me a case number, which also stated that I would receive a reply within 3 weeks. When over four weeks had passed from the date of that letter, I contacted the Ombudsman by phone in case the reply had been lost in the post. I was then told that my case could actually take up to 12 weeks.

About two weeks after that, I received a phone call from an Ombudsman officer; an adjudicator who had been assigned my case proceeded to discuss its relevant issues with me. In my opinion, during our conversation the adjudicator displayed just the right balance of politeness, understanding and realism. This call was followed by an email, where the adjudicator promised to get back in touch after they had contacted Santander.

Exactly two weeks later, I received a letter from the adjudicator with a proposed settlement. Santander had reconsidered its position and had decided to increase their offer towards my time/effort/upset caused by them by 150%. This letter also contained an account of what the adjudicator thought of the improved offer and their opinion of my chances of obtaining an even higher offer. In addition, I was given 9 days to a) accept the offer in full and final settlement of my complaint, or,  b) phone the adjudicator to discuss the issue further if I was unsure as to what to do, or, c) decline the offer (and provide reasons for doing so). If I was to decline [option c)] and also request a review, my complaint was to be taken from the adjudicator and further considered by an actual Ombudsman, whose decision would be final.

At this stage I decided to accept the improved offer [option a)]. The adjudicator had indicated that historically, this offer was analogous to settlements made previously in similar cases and I felt that I could trust their judgement. In addition, it would have been time-consuming to proceed further, when I might waste valuable Ombudsman time (they are extremely busy, currently dealing with record levels of complaints running to hundreds of thousands annually).

I received a cheque from Santander one week later. I did feel that it had been very difficult to prove exactly how much Santander had upset me, both with their original error and in the way they had subsequently dealt with it. In order to receive appropriate compensation I would have to go to extremes, which I was not prepared to do, although I also acknowledged that the level of compensation I thought appropriate was, at best, subjective.

In summary, I was overall happy with the way the Ombudsman service dealt with my case, although the amount of compensation that I received did not meet my full expectations. My one wish was that the procedure had not been as time-consuming, however, it was unclear if it would have been possible to shorten it.