If you’ve tried to get your complaint resolved and you’re not getting anywhere, you can complain to an ombudsman scheme. What ombudsman schemes are there and how do they work?
The ombudsman schemes on offer
The rules changed in 2015 and now most types of trade have to offer an ombudsman scheme. An ombudsman scheme is essentially a mediation or arbitration scheme. It means there’s a neutral organisation that looks at consumers’ complaints and decides whether the company in question has behaved fairly. It’s generally free for consumers to use but usually costs the company or organisation you’re complaining about.
SAVVY TIP: Normally you must have complained directly to the company first and given them eight weeks to respond to your complaint. In many cases, you have up to six months from getting a ‘deadlock’ letter from the company (the final letter after the eight weeks is up) to make your complaint.
Air travel: There are several different alternative dispute resolution schemes covering air travel, but there isn’t an ombudsman as such. Some schemes don’t have many members, others have quite a few. You can complain to Airline Dispute Resolution, which is part of the Consumer Dispute Resolution Scheme, the Aviation Adjudication Scheme, or the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Aviation organisation. Airline Dispute Resolution seems to have the most members.
Energy companies: You can complain to the Energy Ombudsman if you have a complaint about your energy company that it can’t or won’t resolve to your satisfaction. This scheme covers England, Scotland and Wales. There’s also a Utilities Dispute Resolution Scheme.
SAVVY TIP: You can complain to the Energy Ombudsman about problems with your bill, problems with switching or being switched without your permission, being billed by the wrong company. The Energy Ombudsman can’t deal with complaints about LPG (liquid propane gas).
Financial Services: The Financial Ombudsman Service deals with complaints about a wide range of companies, from banks to investment companies and from payday lenders to pension providers. You can find out more about the Financial Ombudsman Service and how to complain to it in my article called Not happy with your financial provider? Complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
SAVVY TIP: All financial companies that are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority have to sign up to be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Furniture: You can complain to the Furniture Ombudsman about problems with furniture. These can relate to the furniture you buy or the way it’s been fitted.
SAVVY TIP: Furniture companies don’t have to join the Furniture Ombudsman. You can still complain about a company that’s not a member, but if you do, the company doesn’t have to be bound by the findings and ruling of the Furniture Ombudsman. The Furniture Ombudsman says that you can buy an independent report (costing between £125 and £350), which may help you if you make a claim to the courts.
Property: The Property Ombudsman Scheme deals with complaints against estate agents, lettings agents, managing agents (for leasehold property) and valuers and auctioneers who are members of the scheme. It doesn’t cover disputes about surveys.
SAVVY TIP: Approximately 95% of estate agents and 60% of letting agents are members of The Property Ombudsman scheme.
Removal companies: All removal companies that have signed up to the National Guild of Removers and Storers are covered by the Removals Industry Ombudsman Scheme.
SAVVY TIP: You can complain to the Removals Industry Ombudsman Scheme if the mediation offered by the trade association hasn’t resolved your problem.
Retailers and shops: You can complain to Retail Dispute Resolution . It can cover complaints about high street and online shops, garden centres, petrol station forecourt shops and delivery companies. It can also deal with complaints about furniture companies that are not a member of the Furniture Ombudsman Scheme.
SAVVY TIP: If it’s felt that an independent expert report is needed to help with the complaint, and if the retailer and customer both agree, it’s initially paid for by the consumer. If the scheme agrees with the customer, the retailer must then pay the cost of the report.
Telecoms and broadband companies: There are two different adjudication schemes for complaints about telecoms companies. The first is the clunkily named Ombudsman Services – Communication which can deal with complaints about a range of companies (you can see the full list on the Ombudsman Service website). The second telecoms scheme is called CISAS (Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme), which deals with everything from telecoms, broadband, pay TV and premium rate services. There’s also a Communications Alternative Dispute Resolution, which is run by the same company that runs the utility, airline and retail scheme.
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