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information for businesses covered by the ombudsman service

This section answers a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about:

before we get involved

"paying off" consumers

what's the ombudsman's view on "paying off" consumers to stop them coming to the ombudsman?

The ombudsman service considers disputes after you have first had the opportunity to look into the complaint, to try to resolve matters to the consumer's satisfaction.

The vast majority of complaints are sorted out very early on between businesses and consumers, and do not need to be referred to us.

Many of the complaints we see arise through misunderstandings. They can often be resolved just by the business giving the consumer a clear explanation of what has happened and why. What may seem obvious and clear to you, as an expert, may seem confusing and worrying to a consumer. So helpful, reassuring messages in plain English are sometimes all that are needed to sort things out.

Even if you believe you have made every effort to give the consumer a full explanation, if the consumer remains dissatisfied, you are still required - under the rules - to treat the matter as a formal complaint. This includes telling the consumer about their right to take their case, free of charge, to the ombudsman service.

Some businesses may choose to settle early on with a consumer - rather than let a disagreement escalate into a dispute involving the ombudsman. This is a matter of commercial judgement for you.

To maintain good customer relations, or simply to save you management time and trouble, you may consider it worthwhile to make a goodwill offer - even where you do not believe you have any legal liability or obligation to do so.

On the other hand, as a point of principle some businesses vigorously resist any complaint they do not believe is justified - and welcome the opportunity to have the ombudsman make a formal decision on what is likely to be a hard-fought dispute.