CUSTOMERS looking to resolve financial disputes can do so with greater ease thanks to a complaints checker tool.
The Financial Ombudsman Service was set up by Parliament in 2001 and resolves complaints between businesses and individuals.
An ombudsman should be independent, free and impartial.
The Financial Ombudsman Service specifically looks at dealing with problems involving:
- bank accounts, payments and cards
- payment protection insurance (PPI)
- home, car, travel and other types of insurance
- loans and other credit, like car finance
- debt collection and repayment problems
- financial advice, investments and pensions
If you think you could use the ombudsman's services but aren't sure whether your complaint would be carried forward, you can use its tool.
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The tool takes you through a number of options relating to your issue, finishing with whether you will be able to make a complaint through the ombudsman.
Some of the options include whether you are a customer of the business you are complaining about or you are complaining on behalf of someone else.
How does the service work?
The ombudsman was set up as an "informal and free alternative to the courts".
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Usually, complaints are handled over the phone, by email or post.
Unlike in court, you don't need a legal representative throughout the process.
Usually, either side tells the ombudsman what they remember about the specifics of the case and if they can provide written evidence or paperwork this can often be helpful.
The ombudsman will then come to a decision on what is "fair and reasonable" depending on the case.
Consumers don't have to accept the decision and can withdraw from the process at any stage, however this has to be before the final decision is issued.
But be warned, as if you do, you are unlikely to be able to restart your complaint with them.
Typically, your case will be addressed by a "handler" who will review all the paperwork and evidence provided by both sides.
They will then speak to both parties and recommend how the complaint could be resolved.
If you don't agree with what the case handler has suggested, you can ask for it to be referred to an ombudsman.
The ombudsman will then look at all details of your complaint and make a final decision.
Could I get compensation?
If you as a consumer have lost out financially, a resolution may include compensation to put you back in the situation you were in before the issue.
And sometimes, financial businesses are asked to pay costs and interest on top.
However, there is a limit to how much businesses can be asked to pay.
These are different depending on when the complaint was brought to the ombudsman's attention.
For more information, you can visit the Financial Ombudsman Service's website.
The ombudsman can also ask businesses to do two other things to put things right.
These include resolving the situation in a way that doesn't involve paying money and paying you money in acknowledgement of the impact of the dispute.
How long does it take to resolve a dispute?
The service tries to offer answers to complaints within 90 days of receiving the complete complaint file.
If you accept the handler's recommendations, a case can be resolved in just a few weeks.
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But if this can't be done, the process will obviously take longer.
This is because an ombudsman has to carry out a formal and detailed investigation.
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