Liam Croke: Take care over any submission to the ombudsman

Over the past couple of months I have been dealing with a bank on behalf of a client who believes that his bank should be offering him a lower rate than he is on.

Over the past couple of months I have been dealing with a bank on behalf of a client who believes that his bank should be offering him a lower rate than he is on.

His mortgage lender isn’t budging from its stance and in its last letter to me it mentions our right to refer the matter to the Financial Services Ombudsman, which is exactly what we are going to do.

This week I am going to outline how this process works. Your starting point begins with three steps and they are:

1. You must first have made a complaint to your financial services provider. It is best to put your complaint to your financial service provider in writing and keep a copy of your letter. You must give your financial service provider an opportunity to look into your problem and allow them to try to reach a resolution.

2. Go through the provider’s complaint handling process in accordance with the consumer protection code. According to the code a provider must seek to resolve any complaints with consumers. That is why you must, in the first instance, contact your provider, outline your complaint and give it a reasonable opportunity to deal with it.

Your financial service provider has 40 business days from the date you notified them of the issue within which to attempt to investigate and resolve your complaint.

Once you have made the provider aware of your complaint, the point at which the ombudsman’s office shall accept the complaint is: Between 1-40 workings days when the investigation is completed and the provider has written to you informing you of this. Or - After 40 working days has expired and the provider has written to you and informed you of the anticipated time frame within which it hopes to resolve the complaint and must inform you that you can refer the matter to the FSO.

Setting out your complaint

When submitting your complaint form present your complaint in a clear manner. You should detail what has happened to date, and how you feel you have a legitimate complaint. It is important you include all key dates and name the product you are complaining about.

Documentation

On submitting your complaint form include all relevant documentation which the ombudsman may rely on during their investigation. This may include letters to and from the provider, policy documents, statements etc.

Assessing a complaint

When the complaint form is received by the office of the ombudsman, it is assessed to determine whether they can accept it or not depending on the law. If the matter is deemed to be outside the remit of the Financial Services Ombudsman’s Bureau the complainant will be informed as to why it cannot be investigated.

Mediation

After assessing your complaint they recommend mediation as the first and best option for resolving the matter.

The agreement

If the complainant and the provider agree a settlement during mediation, what has been agreed will be written down. Once it has been signed by both parties, that agreement becomes legally binding.

If agreement is not reached

If either side is not willing to take part in mediation, or if the mediation is not successful, then the complaint will go to investigation and adjudication where a decision is made by a different third party.

Investigation and Adjudication

If the mediation has not been successful or has been refused, the ombudsman assigns an investigator to your complaint. It may take some weeks before the formal investigation commences. Once a case has been approved for investigation, a time frame in the region of 6-8 weeks may apply before formal investigation of the complaint will commence.

Summary of Complaint

In the course of investigation the ombudsman will issue a “Summary of Complaint” to the provider. The “Summary of Complaint” sets out the complaint which is the subject of the formal investigation and requires the provider to answer a series of questions, to submit evidence and make any submissions which the provider sees as being desirable to put before the Ombudsman to investigate and adjudicate upon the complaint.

A copy of this is then sent to the Complainant.

Exchange of documentation

Upon receipt of the provider’s response to the Summary of Complaint, a copy of these responses and any evidence submitted will be copied to the complainant who will be given 10 working days to submit any observations. Any observations from the complainant will be copied to the provider who will be given five working days to submit any further observations. The process of documentary exchange continues until each party has made the required submissions. The ombudsman gives everyone time to respond. This is one reason why some complaints can take some time to resolve.

Finding

When the investigation is complete, the ombudsman will issue the finding to the complainant and the provider.

Findings can have only three possible outcomes:

Your complaint is upheld.

Your complaint is partly upheld.

Your complaint is not upheld.

The finding is legally binding on the complainant and the provider. This concludes the dispute, ending the complaints process.