Sort out a money problem or make a complaint

If you’re unhappy with the service you got from your bank, financial adviser or any other financial company, it’s often easy to sort out. If talking things through doesn’t work, there’s always a formal way to complain – and if you’re still not happy, you can ask an independent service to investigate.

What you should know before you complain

There are some things you can’t reasonably complain about – such as the value of your investments going down, unless you weren’t warned about the risk.

You can get free help with your complaint. The independent complaints services (for example, the Financial Ombudsman Service) are free to everyone, but you have to have made a formal complaint to the company involved before you can use them. See the next section for the key steps you need to take first.

Think twice before using a complaints company. Complaints companies will usually charge a fee to investigate for you. You can get the same help for free, and you’re just as likely to win.

Key steps to take if you want to complain

Step 1 – Talk to the firm

Often you can sort out a complaint quickly just by talking to the firm. Tell them why you’re unhappy and what you’d like them to do to make things right. If they can’t give you a reasonable explanation of what’s wrong and don’t try to fix things, you may be able to take your complaint to an ombudsman service such as the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Step 2 – Make a formal complaint

All financial firms ought to have a formal complaints procedure to follow when you complain. It tells you:

  • Who you should talk to or write to
  • When you should expect a reply, and what to do if you’re not satisfied with the answer you get

You should be able to find their complaints procedure online – but if you can’t find it, ask for it.

If the complaints procedure involves something you’ve already done, like visiting your bank, make sure that the person you spoke to understands that they need to treat your complaint formally. And, try to put everything in writing, rather than talking over the phone.

You should get a final decision within eight weeks, explaining exactly how the firm will deal with the problem.

Step 3 – Get an impartial decision

Facts and figures

In 2012–13, 49% of all complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service resulted in compensation for the consumer.

Source: FOS Annual Review

After making a formal complaint, if you think the firm’s answer is unreasonable, or if you don’t hear from them within eight weeks, you have the right to take your complaint further. You can get free, official help from an independent complaints service, who can often order the company to pay compensation.

The services include:

  • The Financial Ombudsman Service – this covers most financial complaints
  • Finance & Leasing Association Arbitration Scheme
  • The Pensions Ombudsman

The company’s complaints procedure should tell you which you should contact.

There are time limits for complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You must complain:

  • Within six months of the firm sending you their final response, and
  • Within six years of the event you’re complaining about, or (if it’s more than six years) within three years of the time you could reasonably have known you had cause to complain.

Find out more about using an ombudsman:

Information on how to use an ombudsman on the Citizens Advice Bureau website

Read a summary of complaints dealt with by The Pensions Ombudsman

Read more on the Financial Ombudsman Service website

Getting compensation if a firm goes bust

If you’ve lost money because a UK bank or financial firm has gone out of business you may be able to claim compensation through the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

  • The service is independent and free to use.
  • It can help private individuals, some small businesses and all policyholders of compulsory insurance policies.
  • It only applies to firms regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority (which covers most financial firms).
  • There are limits on the amount of compensation that you can claim.

Find out more in our guide Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

Other types of complaint

As a consumer, you have the right to complain about problems with all kinds of services, not just financial. The GOV.UK website has information on who to complain to if things go wrong and the Which? website can help solve your everyday consumer problems.

Find out about your consumer rights on the GOV.UK website

More about consumer rights on the Which? website