Many people feel dissatisfied with their financial providers at times, but happily, it looks as though the most serious complaints are becoming less and less common.
Figures from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK's financial regulator, reveal that the total number of complaints fell by 2.6% between January and June compared with the previous six months. The total number of complaints stood at 2.05 million for the period, which may sound like a lot, but actually is a welcome drop on recent years, and continues an ongoing trend of reductions.
The figures went on to reveal that payment protection insurance (PPI) continued to be the most complained about product – another ongoing theme – with the total number of PPI complaints remaining more or less unchanged at 0.93 million. This means that, without PPI, the number of complaints would have totalled just 1.12 million.
A particularly notable finding is the fact that complaints about current accounts have seen the largest reduction, with the total falling by 46,000, or 10%, in the six-month period. This could suggest that we're beginning to see the end of complaints regarding improperly packaged (and fee-charging) accounts, thanks to having more choice and transparency than ever before.
Even three of the top five most-complained about providers noted a drop in complaints activity, with Lloyds Bank's 213,163 new complaints equating to a drop of 7% from the second half of 2015, while Bank of Scotland's complaints fell by 5% (to 173,646) and NatWest's by 10% (121,197). HSBC and Barclays Bank both noted a rise in complaints over the period, albeit only slight, with their totals rising by 3% to 124,891 and 287,463 respectively (making Barclays the most-complained about provider overall).
Nonetheless, the overall picture is definitely positive. "To see another six months of reduction in the total number of complaints is encouraging," said Christopher Woolard, director of Strategy and Competition at the FCA. "Firms still need to continue to ensure they are doing all they can to reduce consumer dissatisfaction, but the figures show that they're taking our feedback seriously."
Of course, while the landscape is improving, there are still a fair few complaints being made. If you're one of those dissatisfied customers, you'll want to know the routes you can go down to resolve things – so just where should you start?
Well, the first thing you should do is contact your bank or building society (or other financial provider) to give them the chance to put things right. In many cases, a quick phone call or email is all that's necessary to resolve the matter quickly and simply, and that should be that.
If, however, the issue can't be resolved or you're not happy with the service received, it's time to take things further. According to Citizens Advice, banks and building societies are required by law to have a written complaints process which tells customers how to make a complaint, so find the details and get writing!
Banks are required to thoroughly investigate your complaint and provide a clear answer or resolution, and have eight weeks in which to respond. They may send an initial response, which gives you the chance to go back to the firm if you're not satisfied, or a final response – their last answer. Alternatively, you may be informed that eight weeks have passed and that you have the right to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), which is also an option if you're not happy with the final response or if you haven't heard anything within the required timeframe.
Contacting the FOS takes the complaint up the severity scale, with the ombudsman taking charge of the dispute and dealing with it on your behalf. However, you don't want to hang around too long – you must complain to the FOS within six months of receiving the final response from your bank or building society. Remember though that you're only able to go to the FOS once you've made a formal complaint to the bank or building society itself.
From then on, it's in the hands of the ombudsman. Hopefully it won't need to get to that stage, but if it does, trust that they'll be working for you and will do everything possible to resolve the situation. And remember – if you're not happy with your bank or building society for any reason, don't be afraid to switch! Check out our current account, savings and credit card Best Buys to see if you can find a better deal.
Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.
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