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 2019-20, the Financial Ombudsman Service resolved 295,596 complaints.
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 might 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.
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 Pensions Ombudsman
- The Financial Ombudsman Service – this covers most financial complaints
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:
Using the Consumer Rights Act to complain
The Consumer Rights Act gives you the right to reject something faulty within 30 days of your purchase and claim a refund. Products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, as described and last a reasonable length of time.
There are some exceptions for example if the good you are buying are perishable. This rule also does not apply to downloadable digital goods.
From 30 days of purchase, the trader can offer repair or replacement. If neither of these are possible or if the trader chooses, a refund can be given. A reasonable amount may be deducted for ‘fair use’.
It is considered that the fault was there at the point of purchase for items bought within six months and the trader would have to prove otherwise, such as showing obvious signs of misuse.
After six months you’ll need to prove that the defect was there at the point of purchase.
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.
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 being paid)
If someone pays you by cheque and it bounces, you might 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 paying)
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 might charge you a fee.
If you buy something for between £100 and £30,000, both your credit card company and the seller might be jointly liable 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.
For purchases less than £100 you may want to consider claiming a refund through chargeback.
Debit cards aren’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act, but most card providers have signed up to a voluntarily chargeback scheme.
These schemes allow you to get a refund from the supplier’s bank if the goods you bought don’t work, don’t arrive or if the seller goes bust.
While Section 75 generally only works for credit card purchases over £100, chargeback can apply to both credit and debit cards.
Contact your bank if you need a chargeback on a card purchase.
If something goes wrong with a Direct Debit payment – either because the organisation you’re buying from or your bank made a mistake – you’re 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 might ask you to repay the refund.
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.
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 might be able to claim compensation through the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
- The service is independent and free to use.
- There are limits on the amount of compensation that you can claim.
- 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 (covers most financial firms).