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How to complain to a financial services provider

How to complain to a financial services provider

Category: Money

Updated: 09/05/2016
First Published: 22/08/2013

Not very British is it, complaining? We'd much rather queue. Or drink tea and talk about the weather. Heaven forbid we should make a fuss about things!

But if you have a grievance about a savings account, mortgage or any financial product or service you've received, you really should express it. Yes, some of these financial juggernauts can seem intimidating, but they all exist under the same regulations and all have the same obligation to treat you fairly.

So take a look at these tips on how to get your point across, as well as the process you can expect your complaint to follow.

1. Raise concerns as early as possible

The first thing to do, if possible, is to see if you can raise your concerns before it turns into a complaint.

Ask questions if there is something you don't understand or if something looks odd – people make mistakes, and by saying something straight away you may well nip the error in the bud and avoid having to complain.

2. Complain to the firm you dealt with first

Sometimes your complaint will only come to light later. In this event, the first thing you should do is complain to the firm you initially dealt with.

If you've had a bad experience, it can be all too tempting to want to leapfrog this stage and present your case to a higher authority. However, there's a process to be followed: you have to complain to the firm first to give them the opportunity to investigate your complaint.

There's a right way and a wrong way to go about things though. You need to concentrate on getting the outcome you deserve – getting angry or emotional isn't going to help, and it could even delay things and make people who could help less disposed to do so.

We know it can be difficult to keep your cool, especially if you have lost money or the complaint is causing stress to loved ones. To minimise the stress of having to complain, make sure you do the following:

  • Keep everything. Keep all correspondence between you and the firm and make notes of the names of people you have dealt with. Make notes of dates and telephone conversations, too.
  • Don't complain by phone. If you are emotional about a topic, or are by nature a shy person, don't phone to complain. If you do decide to call to complain, try to stay calm and always back this up in writing with a letter.
  • Write a letter. You will need to find out what address this needs to be sent to, which can usually be found on the firm's website. If you can't and have to call up, don't be drawn into stating your complaint over the phone.

The complaint letter...

The letter you write should be clear and factual: use bullet points and don't use emotive phrases like "your incompetent customer services department" or "the staff at your branch would be better suited to a career in the circus". This may make you feel better, but it won't get you any nearer to getting the result you want!

Your letter should contain:

  • A summary of the product or service you are complaining about.
  • What your complaint is.
  • Whether your loss is financial or otherwise, e.g. you have been caused significant stress and inconvenience, or a combination of the two.
  • What has already happened - have you previously talked to a member of staff about this or have you tried to do anything about it already?
  • What you would like done about it.

Include as many names, dates and supporting documents as you can, but don't send any original documents – use photocopies.

Send the letter by recorded or special delivery.

At the end of the day, it would be counterproductive for a firm to want unhappy customers. Above anything else, it's bad for business. You could find that your complaint is resolved to your satisfaction quicker than you may think.

3. Escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you're not satisfied

If you have no joy settling your complaint in-house with the firm, you can forward your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). Please note that you can only escalate your complaint to the FOS for one of the two following instances:

  • The firm has decided its final response to your complaint and you are not satisfied with it. If you are referring to the FOS for this reason, you will need to do this within six months of receiving the final response.
  • The firm has had eight weeks to deal with your complaint but has not given a final response.

The Financial Ombudsman Service deals with complaints in the following areas:

  • Banking
  • Money transfer
  • Credit cards
  • Mortgages
  • Financial advice
  • Pawnbroking
  • Hire purchase
  • Pensions
  • Insurance
  • Savings accounts
  • Investments
  • Stocks, shares, unit trusts and bonds
  • Loans and credit
  • Store cards

Using the FOS is completely free.

Although you can do so if you wish, there is no requirement for you to pay for legal representation throughout the complaint process.

What does the FOS do?

The Ombudsman will look afresh at your complaint, initially by trying to settle it informally with the firm, but taking more forceful measures if necessary.

If they decide that you have been unfairly treated, the FOS can tell the firm responsible to restore you to the position you would have been in, had the firm not treated you unfairly (they can even order compensation of up to £100,000 to be paid to you).

If it is decided that you have been treated fairly, the FOS will tell you why they have found this.

What next?

For more information, check out the FOS's informative factsheet. There is also an extra questionnaire to fill in if you are making a complaint about PPI.

Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.

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