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

In 2014-15, the Financial Ombudsman Service resolved 448,387 complaints – with more than nine in ten settled informally.

Source: FOS Annual Review

  • There are some things you can’t reasonably complain about. For example, the value of your investments going down, unless you weren’t warned about the risk.
  • You can get free help with your complaint. Independent complaints services (for example, the Financial Ombudsman Service) are free, 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

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 websiteopens in new window

Using the Consumer Rights Act to complain

As a consumer, you have a right to complain about your bank, or financial services firm using the Consumer Rights Act (CRA).

This might be the case, if for example, a financial services company falsely told you they were the cheapest mortgage adviser in town. In this situation, you may be able to claim breach of the CRA and request a financial remedy.

For more information on your rights as a consumer visit MoneySavingExpert’s dedicated guide.
If you have question about a specific issue, use Which?’s consumer rights tool to find an answer.

Avoiding payment issues

Different payment methods can lead to different problems. We’ve put together a list of tips to help keep you problem free regardless of how you choose to pay.

With scams getting more and more sophisticated, it’s worth reading A beginner’s guide to scams.


A simple, straightforward way to pay. But, always ask for a receipt – otherwise there might be no record of the transaction if there’s a problem and you need to prove payment or get a refund.

Cheques (you’re paying)

If someone pays you by cheque and it bounces, you may find it difficult to reclaim your money. When you get a cheque, don’t hand over the goods right away. Pay the cheque into your account first and wait for the funds to clear – it should take less than six working days.

Cheques (you’re being paid)

Make sure you draw a line through any unused space on the payee and amount lines, and don’t leave any space before you start writing. That way the names and the amount of money can’t be altered. Also, make sure you keep enough money in your account to cover the full amount of the cheque – otherwise it might bounce, or your bank may charge you a fee.

Credit cards

If you buy something for between £100 and £30,000, both your credit card company and the seller are responsible for your purchase. This is true even if you only pay for a small percentage of the item by credit card, i.e. £1 on a £100 purchase.

If something goes wrong – for example, if the seller goes bust or if the goods are defective and the seller won’t refund them – contact your card company to get your money back.

Debit cards

Debit cards aren’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act, but most cards come with a chargeback scheme. These schemes allow you to get a refund if the goods you bought don’t work, don’t arrive or if the seller goes bust. Contact your bank if you need a chargeback on a debit card purchase.

Direct Debits

If something goes wrong with a Direct Debit payment – either because the organisation you are buying from or your bank made a mistake – you are covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee. Once you notify your bank of the error, you should get a full refund, immediately. However if the mistake turns out to be your fault the bank may ask you to repay the refund.

Standing orders

If you or your bank makes a mistake with a standing order, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your money back. So, it’s doubly important to make sure the payment dates and amounts are correct when you set up a standing order.

Overseas transfers

If something goes wrong when you send money overseas from the UK, the first step is to contact the firm that helped you with the transaction. They can usually help you sort out the problem.

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.