How we work
Working with you and the company to resolve complaints
Our people are friendly, approachable and down-to-earth, and:
- we are trained to listen and to provide a firm and fair helping hand to consumers and service providers;
- we help to get the complaint resolved as quickly as possible with the most appropriate outcome; and
- we work closely with providers to provide one-to-one support and industry wide advice. This helps to improve the way services are delivered and complaints are handled.
By participating in our schemes, companies show to their customers that they take complaints seriously – our brand is a mark of quality.
We decide the best way to resolve the complaints we accept. There are some reasons why we will not accept complaints, for example:
- The customer has not first attempted to resolve the complaint directly with the trader
- The dispute is frivolous or vexatious
- The dispute is currently being, or has in the past been, considered by another ADR scheme or court
- The value of the claim exceeds the maximum value of an award that we can make
- The customer has not submitted the dispute within the required time
- Dealing with the dispute would seriously impair the effective operation of Ombudsman Services
Our processes are designed to be high quality, proportionate and effective. Complaints are usually resolved within 10 to 12 weeks. If you choose not to accept our decision, your (the complainant) legal rights remain unaffected and you can take the matter to court - subject to any requirements set by the courts.
We ensure our services are widely accessible. We base our decisions on what is fair and reasonable. When we make a decision we take into account:
- both sides of the story;
- regulatory rules, guidance and standards;
- codes of practice, relevant law and regulations; and
- what is accepted as good industry practice.
Before we can accept a complaint from you we must give the company a reasonable opportunity to resolve it. If you receive the company’s final position on the complaint (deadlock) and you remain unhappy, or eight weeks pass and the complaint remains unresolved*, we may be able to help. We aim to find quick, informal and realistic resolutions to your complaint which you and the company both agree on. You can withdraw from the process at any point. In exceptional circumstances, where the Ombudsman considers it necessary (as a matter of sole discretion) a site visit, expert report or a face-to-face meeting (or hearing) may be arranged.
We want to resolve complaints as early and as easily as possible for you. We do this in the following ways.
If you contact us with a complaint and it is the right time for us to become involved, we will agree with you the main points of your complaint, and what reasonable resolution could be achieved. We can ask for your authority to proceed with your complaint over the phone, meaning that the process is quicker and there are no unnecessary forms to fill in. We record all of our calls. When a complaint is accepted for resolution we will assess the information we have and decide the most appropriate way to proceed. You can download our what happens next fact sheet to find out more.
Early resolution (ER)
If we notice that a complaint can be resolved simply, we will contact the company by phone or email and let you know. If both you and the company agree to our resolution, this becomes the ombudsman’s decision and the proposed resolution will be binding on the company. We will write to you and the company to confirm what has been agreed.
Mutually acceptable settlement (MAS)
If we notice that a complaint is more complex and likely to take longer than five days to resolve, we will contact the company and request more information. When we have all of the information from both you and the company, we will prepare an investigation plan. Based on our assessment of what has gone wrong and what should be done to resolve the problem, we will contact you, preferably by phone, to discuss the complaint and its resolution and try to reach agreement with you and the company. If both parties agree, this becomes the ombudsman’s decision and the proposed resolution is binding on the company and enforceable. We will write to you and the company to confirm what has been agreed.
Ombudsman Services decision (OSD)
When a complaint is accepted for resolution we will assess the information we have and decide the most appropriate way to proceed. We always try to achieve a resolution to a complaint which is acceptable to both sides. We appreciate that this is not always possible, so we will consider all of the information available to us and we will make a decision. We will contact both you and the company to explain our decision and the reasons why we have arrived at it. If either party considers there is an error in fact or has new information which was not previously available, this may be given to us for consideration. We will check to see if this affects the outcome before the ombudsman services decision is finalised. We will contact you and the company again to explain if there has been any change to the decision, or if it remains the same.
If we decide that a participating company has made a mistake or treated you unfairly, we may require a remedy that returns you to the position you would be in if the mistake had not occurred. Find out more about our remedies.
*Six weeks for SSE customers.