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annual review 2011/2012

1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012

who complained to us

what kind of consumer uses the ombudsman service?

We need to know what kinds of consumers bring complaints to the ombudsman service - so that we can provide a service that meets their needs and expectations.

Understanding who our customers are also helps us identify specific areas and groups in the community where our service is less well known and used.

We carry out a wide range of research to find out more about our customers, as part of our work to:

  • Identify and respond to what people who use our service - and our stakeholders more generally - want and expect from us.
  • Update and improve our casehandling procedures to make our service easier to use and more tailored to individual needs.
  • Adjust how we work in individual cases to address particular accessibility issues.
  • Meet our commitment to equality and inclusion.
  • Target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities.

what age are consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

  • 3% were under 25
  • 14% were 25 to 34
  • 22% were 35 to 44
  • 24% were 45 to 54
  • 17% were 55 to 65
  • 20% were over 65

The number of consumers bringing complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service over the last few years has increased substantially. During this time the overall proportion of people in each age group has remained broadly consistent - with the exception of consumers over 65 who now account for 20% of people who use our service (compared with 17% in the previous year and 12% in 2008/2009).

This largely reflects the growing number of older people who are now referring complaints to us about payment protection insurance (PPI). For example, in the financial year 2011/2012 the proportion of PPI complaints we received from consumers aged over 65 increased from 11% to 42%.

The continued rise in the number of cases from older people may also reflect our outreach work with older and retired people over the last few years - with more consumers in the older age groups now showing increased confidence in complaining.

Almost two thirds of consumers who use our service are between the ages of 35 and 65. This reflects the fact that they are more likely to own a wider range of financial products. Our research also shows that people in these age groups are generally also more likely to know about their consumer rights, including their right to complain to the ombudsman.

For the first time, PPI is now the most complained about financial product across all age groups. However, it accounts for different proportions of complaints within each age group. For example, around four out of ten consumers aged under 25 and over 65 referred complaints to us about PPI - but this number rose to six out of ten for people between 25 and 54.

what financial products do consumers of different ages complain about most to the ombudsman?

ages most complained about product
%
2nd most complained about product
%
3rd most complained about product
%
other products complained about %
under 25 PPI
40%
bank accounts
25%
car/motorbike insurance
12%
23%
25 to 34 PPI
61%
loans
15%
bank accounts
11%
13%
35 to 44 PPI
62%
loans
16%
bank accounts
8%
14%
45 to 54 PPI
60%
loans
15%
investments and pensions
8%
17%
55 to 64 PPI
54%
investments and pensions
15%
loans
13%
18%
over 65 PPI
42%
bank accounts
16%
investments and pensions
15%
27%

We monitor closely the types of people who initially contact our consumer helpline - and compare these with the types of consumer who subsequently pursue a case with us formally. This enables us to see if there are any differences in the kinds of people who use our service at the various different stages of our process.

Our research shows that people in all age groups are equally likely to refer a complaint to us, once they have contacted us informally on our consumer helpline.

Consumers under 25 and over 65 are less likely to have their complaints upheld than people in other age groups - but this reflects the products they complain about. As highlighted above, younger consumers, and those over 65, are proportionately less likely to complain about payment protection insurance (PPI) - where we uphold a higher number of cases in the consumer's favour.

what age are consumers who pursue complaints to the final stage - for an ombudsman's decision?

  • 2% were under 25
  • 9% were 25 to 34
  • 17% were 35 to 44
  • 23% were 45 to 54
  • 23% were 55 to 65
  • 26% were over 65

Younger consumers are significantly more likely than those in other age groups to agree at an earlier stage with an adjudicator's view or informal settlement - and less likely to request a formal ombudsman's decision.

The proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's final decision increases by age group. This largely reflects the types of financial products involved. As people get older, they generally have more complex products such as investments and pensions - areas where ombudsmen are proportionately more involved in making decisions, given the larger amounts of money often at stake.

For example, 15% of complaints brought by consumers aged 55 and over related to investments and pensions - but these products featured in only 1% of the cases brought by people aged between 25 and 34. On the other hand, younger people are - proportionately - significantly more likely to refer complaints to the ombudsman service about current accounts.

There is more information on our website about our work with younger people - to help raise their awareness of the ombudsman service, and their confidence and ability to get problems sorted themselves.

… and what gender are they?

  • female: 39%
  • male: 61%

Men continue to complain more to the ombudsman service than women - although during the year the proportion of complaints from women increased from 37% to 39%.

However, many complaints relate to accounts and policies that are held jointly, where conventionally the first-named account-holder (the name our system records) is generally a male partner.

The three products that women and men complain about the most are:

  • Payment protection insurance (56% of women's complaints and 54% of men's).
  • Credit cards (9% of women's complaints and men's complaints alike).
  • Current accounts (8% of women's complaints and 7% of men's).

Our research shows that women are slightly less likely to pursue complaints with us formally, after they have contacted us initially on our consumer helpline - for advice and guidance at an early stage.

However, although other research we carried out during the year suggests that women are a third less likely than men to say they have had a problem with a financial product or service, women are just as likely as men to say they had pursued a complaint to the business if they did have a problem.

… women are just as likely as men to pursue a complaint to the business

In these circumstances, women are then 25% less likely than men to be satisfied with the business's response. And the proportion of women who say they would be prepared to continue to pursue their complaint at that stage has been steadily rising over the last few years (from 42% to 55%) - with women now more likely to take action than men.

Taking into account the fact that the proportion of complaints we uphold varies according to the financial product involved - and that the proportion of products complained about by women and men varies slightly - there is no significant difference in the overall outcome of cases based on gender.

And there is also no significant difference between men and women in the proportion of cases requiring an ombudsman's decision to settle a case finally.

where do consumers live who complain to us?

This table shows where consumers live who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year. The spread of our customers across the UK remained similar to the previous year - although the number of people from the South East fell slightly and the proportion of consumers from Scotland and the North East of England rose by 12%.

region where consumers who complain to us live %
South East
(including Greater London)
28
Midlands 20
North West 12
North East 10
Scotland 9
South West 9
East Anglia 5
Wales 5
Northern Ireland 2

This table shows where consumers live who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year. The spread of our customers across the UK remained virtually the same as in previous years.

Comparing these figures with regional population data helps us monitor awareness and use of our service across the regions and nations. The location of people using the ombudsman service continues broadly to reflect the spread of the population across the UK as a whole.

Generally speaking, we saw a similar pattern of complaints about most financial products across all areas of the UK. The main exceptions were for complaints involving:

  • Payment protection insurance (PPI) - which made up 62% of complaints from the North East of England compared with 48% from the South East.
  • Current accounts - which made up 9% of complaints from the South East and 6% of complaints from the North East.

the "top 20" places where people phoned us from the most

  1. Glasgow
  2. Swansea
  3. Bristol
  4. Luton
  5. Manchester
  6. Bolton
  7. Nottingham
  8. Kingston on Thames
  9. Colindale, London
  10. Bournemouth
  11. Enfield, London
  12. Rochdale
  13. Belfast
  14. Cardiff
  15. Reading
  16. Leeds
  17. Watford
  18. Sheffield
  19. Blackburn
  20. Leicester

The places where people called us from the most were generally more densely-populated and diverse urban and suburban areas across the UK. Unsurprisingly, we received fewest calls from more remote areas of Wales and the Scottish Highlands.

how did consumers who referred complaints to us know about the ombudsman?

how did consumers with complaints know about the ombudsman? %
from a financial business 31
on the internet 21
from a friend, relative or colleague 15
in the media (press and broadcast) 15
from a consumer-advice agency
(eg Trading Standards or Citizens Advice)
7
from a claims-management company 4
other 7

The way that consumers who refer complaints to us say they knew about the ombudsman has changed over the year. In previous years most people said they had heard about us through the media. This year most said it was the business they had complained to that had told them about the ombudsman service.

Under the FSA's complaints-handling rules, businesses covered by the ombudsman service have always been required to mention the ombudsman when they deal with a customer for the first time. Businesses also have to give details about us, if a complaint arises which the business cannot resolve to the customer's satisfaction.

So we would expect a significant number of consumers who bring complaints to us to say they were told about the ombudsman by the business they complained to. We hope the increase this year - from 20% to 31% ­- in the proportion of consumers who said this was how they first heard about us reflects a continuing focus by businesses on improving their customer service and complaints-handling.

Men are more likely than women to say they found out about us from the financial business. And the proportion of consumers who first heard of us from the business increases by age group - rising to a third of people over 65 who said this was how they knew about us.

35% of people from professional and managerial (AB) backgrounds told us they heard about us from the business they had complained to. This figure fell to 27% of skilled and semi-skilled people (C1/C2) and 21% of unskilled people (DE). People from the unskilled (DE) socio-economic group were more likely to rely for information about us on friends, colleagues and family, on front-line consumer-advice agencies, and on claims-management companies.

The importance of traditional media as a way of finding out about us has declined during the year - from 29% to 15%. This is particularly linked to how old consumers are. For example, our research continues to show that younger people rely significantly less on the press to find out about us - and are more than twice as likely to know about us through friends, colleagues and family.

… younger people are more than twice as likely to know about us through friends, relatives and colleagues

However, their strong reliance on social networks does not extend to the way in which younger people use the internet to find out about the ombudsman. The heaviest internet users - in terms of those who said they first heard about us online - were people aged between 35 and 44, not people under 25.

This is consistent with other feedback from students and younger people on what they use the internet for. In our research, younger people have been clear that we should develop only a low-key social-media presence to communicate with them.

However, women and Asian consumers showed a particular preference for the internet in terms of finding out about our service.

There is more information in this annual review about general levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service.

which newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman?

Our research with consumers who use our service clearly shows that the extent to which people find out about us by reading newspapers becomes increasingly important the older people are. Younger consumers and those from non-white ethnic backgrounds rely significantly less on national newspapers to find out about the ombudsman service.

which newspapers do consumers read who complain to the ombudsman? %
regional and free papers (including Metro) 22
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday 21
The Sun 15
The Mirror 10
The Times / Sunday Times 8
The Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph 7
The Express 5
The Guardian / Observer 4
The Star 3
Financial Times 3
The Independent / Independent on Sunday 2

Over the last few years we have seen a continuing steady shift in the newspapers that consumers who use the ombudsman service tell us they read. The proportion of "broadsheet" readers has declined significantly, with the Sun, the Mirror and Metro gaining ground.

This seems to reflect the continuing shift in the socio-economic background of consumers who now use our service. Financial Times readers and people who read The Star now use the ombudsman service in equal proportions.

… readers of the FT and The Star are equally as likely to use our service

Our research with consumers who use our service continues to show that the extent to which people find out about us by reading newspapers becomes increasingly important the older people are. Younger consumers and those from non-white ethnic backgrounds rely significantly less on national newspapers to find out about the ombudsman service.

However, the newspapers that people tell us they read do not match exactly with the media that cover the ombudsman service most frequently.

which media cover the ombudsman most frequently?

Over the year half of all media coverage of the ombudsman service was online, rather than in traditional print format.

which media cover the ombudsman most frequently? %
Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday 5
Money Marketing 5
thisismoney.co.uk 3
Independent /
Independent on Sunday
3
Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph 3
The Times / Sunday Times 3
IFAonline 3
BBC 2
moneysavingexpert.com 2
Financial Adviser 2
other print publications 37
other online coverage 32

Online coverage of the ombudsman service appeared on a very wide range of websites - run by voluntary and community groups, businesses and business networks, and government and public sector bodies - as well as the online versions of "traditional" newspapers and magazines. In addition, around 600 organisations now link directly from their websites to ours.

The media that covered the ombudsman service most frequently during the year included national newspapers, specialist business-to-business publications and consumer websites.

what's the socio-economic background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman?

year ended 31 March AB
professional and managerial
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled
DE
unskilled
2012 34% 54% 12%
2011 35% 57% 8%
2010 36% 57% 7%
2009 41% 53% 6%
2008 48% 47% 5%
2007 59% 36% 5%

Our research suggests that consumers from DE backgrounds are significantly less likely to complain to a financial business - and where they do so, they are more likely than any other socio-economic group to be satisfied with the financial business's response.

On the other hand, our research shows that AB consumers are more likely to have a wider range of financial products and services - and are the most likely to consider they have had a problem with a financial business.

These factors are clearly reflected in the type of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman service - if they remain unhappy with the financial business's response.

However, our analysis of the occupations of people who refer complaints to the ombudsman shows a steady socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service.

Over the last five years, the proportion of complaints to the ombudsman from skilled and semi-skilled workers (C1/C2) has risen by 50%, and complaints from unskilled workers (DE) have more than doubled­. Over the same period complaints from people from professional and managerial backgrounds (AB) have fallen proportionately by 42%.

This shift largely reflects the type of complaints that consumers refer to the ombudsman service - and the financial products and services involved. Between 2004 and 2007, up to two thirds of the complaints we handled related to mortgage endowments and were brought by mainly middle-aged homeowners.

But since 2007 we have seen significant increases in complaints involving current accounts, overdrafts, credit and payment protection insurance (PPI) - products which are held extensively by a broader socio-economic range of consumers.

During the year - for complaints about all financial products - we upheld 57% of complaints from AB consumers, 69% of complaints from C1/C2 consumers and 70% of complaints from DE consumers. However, in relation solely to complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI), there was no difference in outcome by socio-economic group.

what do consumers from different socio-economic backgrounds complain about to the ombudsman? AB
professional and managerial %
C1/C2
skilled and semi-skilled %
DE
unskilled %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 46 59 69
bank accounts 15 12 6
loans 13 9 11
investments and pensions 13 10 5
motor and household insurance 6 5 4
other 7 5 5

The order of financial products most complained about is broadly similar across the different socio-economic groups of consumers. However, the relative proportion of complaints about these different products varies significantly.

For example, the proportion of complaints about motor and household insurance is similar across the three groups. But the proportion of complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI), current and savings accounts, and investments and pensions, differs substantially for consumers from AB and DE backgrounds.

what's the occupational background of consumers who complain to the ombudsman? %
skilled trades (eg electricians, plumbers, mechanics) 26
professionals 19
managers and officials 15
administrative and secretarial 13
"elementary" occupations (eg hotel & bar staff, farm-workers, postal workers) 10
personal services (eg care assistants, dental nurses) 8
sales and customer service 7
process and plant work (eg machinery operatives, assembly-line workers) 2

The occupational backgrounds of consumers using our service shifted noticeably during the year - reflecting the continuing socio-economic changes. The proportion of managers and officials fell from 19% to 15%, and the number of people in administrative and secretarial jobs slipped from 16% to 13%.
But the number of people using the ombudsman who worked in sales and customer service, and in healthcare jobs, doubled during the year. And the proportion of people in "elementary" occupations - including restaurant, hotel and bar staff - increased from 3% to 10%.

occupation %
employed 53
retired 25
self-employed / running own business 16
studying 1
other 5

The proportion of people using our service who said they were employed increased during the year - from 49% to 53%, the highest level in the last five years. The proportion of our customers who told us they were self-employed also rose slightly - from 15% to 16% - continuing a steady year-on-year rise in recent years.

A quarter of people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were retired - reflecting the fact that 37% were aged 55 or over.

The socio-economic shift among the consumers who use our service also reflects the focus of our outreach work with groups whose knowledge and use of us is lower than average. This work aims to help raise awareness of the right to bring financial disputes to the ombudsman service. There are more details later in this section about our awareness-raising and accessibility work.

our outreach work focuses on groups whose knowledge and use of us is lower

As part of our commitment to diversity and equality, we closely monitor the outcome of the complaints we resolve at the different stages of our process - to ensure we are treating everyone fairly and equally. The results of this monitoring continue to show that the proportion of cases we uphold in favour of the consumer is broadly consistent across groups of consumers from a wide range of backgrounds.

access and inclusion

Being accessible is something we take very seriously. We see this as part of our commitment to treating everyone we deal with equally. Someone's background or ability should not act as a barrier to having their complaint considered fairly and impartially.

Similarly, we see diversity as an asset that helps deliver our vision of a service that meets the needs of all our customers and stakeholders. We work towards an "equality and diversity standard" in the way we provide our service - to help us identify and overcome any barriers that could:

  • Prevent potential customers from accessing our services.
  • Work to the detriment of those already using our service.

Our high-level strategy on diversity and equality - published on our website - is set and monitored by our board and executive team. Operationally, our work in this area is co-ordinated and championed by our customer service taskforce which brings together senior staff from all areas of the ombudsman service.

During the year our strategic and practical approach to diversity was independently assessed over an eight-week period - and we were awarded "gold standard" accreditation as a "diversity assured" organisation.

We continue to work with a range of external partners specialising in this area. These include:

  • The Employers' Network for Equality and Inclusion - providing us with ongoing strategic and practical advice in the role of a "critical friend".
  • The Institute of Equality & Diversity Practitioners - with whom we hosted joint events on equality and inclusion in financial services.
  • Six disability, mental health and wellbeing charities - including the Samaritans, British Dyslexia Association and Alzheimer's Society - who provide training and guidance for our staff on disability issues.

Our in-house customer service group - made up predominantly of casework staff across the ombudsman service - also carries out a range of activities, to help keep us focused on the fact that each customer may have individual needs to be taken into account. The customer service group has provided input on a number of equality analyses (formerly known as "impact assessments") that we carried out during the year, covering areas including:

  • Our "e-enablement" project - which includes the scanning of incoming post.
  • How we record and manage requests for information made to us under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Proposals to publish ombudsman decisions and the possible impacts this could have on consumers, particularly those who are more vulnerable.

Building on the "customer experience" workshops that we developed last year - which now form part of our training programme for all case-handling staff - we launched a series of customer videos during the year for internal training purposes. The videos, filmed in consumers' own homes, give a very different insight into people's lives - and into the challenges and difficulties that people may face that may not always be immediately apparent just from the paperwork in a file.

… we want to understand the impact that having a financial problem can have on ordinary life

The aim of the videos is to help us better understand, from each consumer's own perspective, the impact that having a financial problem can have on ordinary life - and how it feels to bring a complaint to the ombudsman service. The videos have been watched and discussed across the whole of the ombudsman service - including the board - and they now also form part of our training for all staff.

bereavement

Another "customer experience" event we held during the year involved a consumer, Mrs K, visiting our office to talk to us directly about her own experience of complaining. Mrs K, a retired palliative-care nurse from Yorkshire, had spent two years in a dispute with a financial business, complaining about the insensitive and bureaucratic way in which the business had treated her following her father's death.

Mrs K subsequently brought her dispute to the ombudsman service - where we also made mistakes and provided a service we were not proud of. As part of resolving her complaint about our service, our chief ombudsman invited Mrs K to come and tell us her story in person - so that we could learn lessons from it. Mrs K spoke powerfully to an audience of over 50 of our managers - about dealing sensitively with issues around illness, death and bereavement.

We have also worked with disability and healthcare charities during the year as part of our "ombuds-ambassador" activities. Our "ombuds-ambassadors" are employees who are interested - outside work - in helping to raise awareness of the ombudsman in their own local communities. As our front-line "ambassadors" they help promote the ombudsman locally where levels of awareness or usage of our service are lower. This includes community work with:

  • Younger people - where our "ombuds-ambassadors" work in schools and youth groups.
  • The gay and lesbian community - with our LGBT support-group taking part in London's Pride weekend.
  • Disabled people - involving outreach and support for a number of disability charities.
  • Different ethnic communities - where our "ombuds-ambassadors" volunteer across the African-Caribbean, Mauritian, Chinese and Polish communities.

Highlighted below are key areas where, following research and analysis, we have prioritised specific outreach and awareness-raising activities during the year - or adjusted our casehandling procedures to address particular accessibility issues.

disability

21% of consumers whose disputes we settled during the year told us they had some form of disability - most commonly mobility and manual dexterity difficulties. This increased from 18% in the previous year. The figure is now higher than the percentage of disabled people in the UK (18%) estimated by the Government's Office for Disability Issues.

disabled consumers who complain to the ombudsman %
mobility difficulties 22
arthritis and manual dexterity difficulties 19
heart and circulatory problems (eg stroke) 14
organ and nervous-system disorders & disease (eg diabetes, MS) 10
hearing impairment 9
respiratory and breathing difficulties (eg asthma) 7
mental health issues 6
sight impairment 4
learning difficulties (eg dyslexia) 1
other 8

Many of our disabled customers do not ask for - or require - any adjustment in the way we deal with their case. But we ask all consumers when they first contact us whether they would like us to adapt the way we communicate with them, to meet any particular needs they may have.

Our staff receive training to help promote their confidence in dealing sensitively and practically with customers' different needs. During the year this included training on:

  • How we adapt the way we talk and write to people with learning disabilities.
  • Responding to phone calls, emails and letters from worried or confused people, who may be experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.
  • Understanding different types of mental health conditions, their symptoms, and what impact these might have on a person's ability to manage their affairs, including their finances.
  • The signs and symptoms of dementia, the impact of dementia on family members, and understanding what a person with dementia may be communicating through their behaviour.

… we train our staff to deal sensitively and practically with customers' different needs

During the year there was a 90% increase in the number of cases where we provided information for customers in alternative formats. For example, we used large print in 585 cases (252 in the previous year) and colour-tinted paper in 105 cases - to help meet people's specific needs.

These increases reflect both the general increase in the volume of casework, as well as our continuing focus on promoting our services for disabled people.

meeting customers' different communication needs %
using large or bold print 62
using colour-tinted paper 11
Information on CD and cassette 10
EasyRead 8
Braille 2
British Sign Language 1.5
meeting different needs in other ways (including Text Relay) 5.5

Our aim is to take a flexible approach in cases where a particular disability means we need to adapt our more usual means of communicating with customers. There are some examples in this annual review of some cases where there was no ready-made solution.

To be able to better understand the issues that disabled people face in dealing with financial services or making a complaint, we continue to take part in a range of disability events, including Naidex (the UK's largest event for homecare, disability and rehabilitation).

During the year we worked with Remark! - a TV company run by and for deaf people - on a feature about sorting out financial problems and the role of the ombudsman. And we added three new videos in British Sign Language to our website.

We also worked with the disability charity, Shaw Trust - to make sure our consumer leaflet is fully accessible and readable - as well as with the six disability, mental health and wellbeing charities who provide training and guidance for our staff on disability issues.

We continue to work in partnership with Able - the disability lifestyle-magazine and website - to help raise the profile of the ombudsman service both as an employer and as a dispute-resolution service. And we featured in magazines including Disability and If only I'd known that a year ago, the guide to living with ill health, injury or disability, published by RADAR, the disability network.

consumers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds

10.5% of people who brought complaints to the ombudsman service during the year said they had a non-white ethnic background (12% in the previous year and 10.5% in the year before that).

As part of this figure, the proportion of Black/Black British consumers using our service has continued its year-on-year gradual increase (rising from 4.7% to 5.1% during the year) - but the proportion of Asian/Asian British consumers has slipped back (3.2% compared with 4.3%).

These changes are likely to reflect trends in our casework - especially in relation to payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints during the year. 70% of the complaints referred to us by Black/Black British consumers related to PPI (rising from 38% in the previous year) - compared to 55% of cases from white consumers and 41% of cases from Asian consumers.

There is no significant difference in the outcome of cases, when comparing the complaints referred to us by white and non-white consumers across all financial products. And white and non-white consumers are equally as likely to appeal their case to an ombudsman for a final decision.

what ethnic background do consumers come from who complain to the ombudsman? % %
  non-white white
2012 10.5 89.5
2011 12 88
2010 10.5 89.5
2009 9 91
2008 8 92

During the year we worked closely with influential Black women's magazines, Black Hair and Pride, on lifestyle features that highlighted consumer rights - and awareness of the ombudsman - in the context of events such as weddings and holidays. We also ran features on the New Black Magazine website - including our 12 top money-tips for 2012.

We continued our long-term partnership with ZEE, the Asian media-network - as well as running advertising and advertorial in The Asian Today (a free, multi-faith paper for people in the Midlands), Asian Woman and across a range of popular UK Asian-lifestyle websites - to maintain levels of awareness of the ombudsman service.

what ethnic background are our website users? %
White 79
Asian/Asian British 7
Black/Black British 6
Chinese 1
other 7

Targeting information about the ombudsman service for the Asian community by using web-based material and online advertising reflects the findings of our online survey - which continues to show a slightly higher proportion of Asian consumers using our website than other ethnic groups. This is in line with research indicating higher levels of internet use among the Asian community more generally.

However, we also used more traditional ways of getting our message across direct to harder-to-reach communities, where awareness and understanding of our service is lower. During the year this included:

  • Public information advertising on buses in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Belfast.
  • Awareness and recruitment advertising on bus shelters in South East London.
  • Taking part in multicultural consumer events - such as the London mela - to meet people face to face and hear about their experiences of interacting with financial services.

Unprompted awareness of the ombudsman service increased the most during the year among Black/Black British consumers - with 15% now able to name us without any prompting, compared to 11% in the previous year. Unprompted awareness of our service among Asian consumers has remained relatively stable - at 9% - over the last few years. 18% of Chinese consumers were able to name us unprompted.

faith and religion

As part of our commitment to equality and diversity, we ask consumers about their religious or faith beliefs - in an optional question in our customer survey. This survey is entirely voluntary - and is completed by consumers anonymously after their case has been settled.

This information - like all the other details we collect relating to the diversity of our customers - helps us monitor whether we are handling complaints and making decisions fairly and impartially.

Of the people who completed our customer survey, 8% did not respond to the question about faith and religion - and 4% indicated that they would prefer not to say.

what faith or religion do consumers follow who complain to the ombudsman? %
Buddhist 1
Christian 65
Hindu 1
Jewish 0.5
Muslim 2
Sikh 0.5
other religion 4
no religion 22
prefer not to say 4

These figures are broadly in line with statistics about consumers' religious beliefs published by the Office for National Statistics in their Integrated Household Survey for 2011. However, we received:

  • Fewer complaints from consumers who told us they were Christian (65% in our survey and 69% across the UK).
  • Fewer complaints from consumers who told us they were Muslim (2% in our survey and 4% across the UK).

Our monitoring of the outcome of cases over the year shows that the proportion of complaints we upheld in favour of consumers varies slightly between different religious groups. However, this clearly reflects the significantly different financial products complained about - and the different uphold rates for different products.

For example, Christian consumers were among the groups that complained the most about payment protection insurance (PPI) - which has one of the highest uphold rates as a product. This meant that overall these consumers had a higher proportion of their complaints upheld throughout the year.

However, Hindu consumers complained the least about PPI (only 23% of their total complaints - compared with 56% of the complaints from Christian consumers). This was reflected in a slightly lower uphold rate overall for Hindu consumers.

The different patterns of financial products complained about by the various faith groups - resulting in slightly different proportions of uphold rates - may also reflect different religious attitudes to credit and interest.

younger consumers

The proportion of consumers aged between 25 and 34 who bring complaints to the ombudsman service is broadly in line with the proportion of the UK adult population as a whole. But we receive proportionately fewer complaints from consumers between 18 and 24.

This largely reflects the fact that people under 25 generally own fewer financial products than older, more financially-established consumers. For example, data from the Family Resources Survey published in May 2011 by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that families with a head of household aged 25 or under had fewer than the average number of savings and investment products.

But many younger people have personal loans, credit cards and bank accounts - and take out insurance for loans, travel, mobile phones, cars and motorbikes. And this is reflected in the complaints we do see from this age group - as shown in the chart below.

For the first time, payment protection insurance (PPI) was the financial product most complained about this year by people under 25. However, while 40% of those under 25 referred complaints to us about PPI, this figure rose to 62% for people between 35 and 44.

what do consumers under 25 complain to us about? %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 40
bank accounts 25
car/motorbike insurance 12
loans 10
consumer credit 8
other 5

In our consumer research, 8% of people under 25 said they had "had a problem with a financial product or service" - compared with 18% of people between 25 and 34 and 26% of people between 45 and 54.

55% of these young people said they had then gone on "to make a formal complaint against a financial company" - significantly fewer than for any age group other than the over 65s.

This may support the widely-held view that it is the "formality" of making a complaint - and the time involved in following the "official" procedure - that younger consumers find particularly off-putting. It could also explain why younger consumers are less likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision, if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view.

However, it may also indicate that problems faced by younger people - who will be new to using many financial products - can be more easily resolved by financial businesses without escalating into formal complaints.

As part of our consumer research over the year, over half of 18 to 24 year olds across the UK said they had not heard of the Financial Ombudsman Service. But awareness of our service among consumers aged between 25 and 34 was significantly higher - with three quarters of people in this age group recognising our name and 18% able to name us without any prompting.

As part of our outreach work we continue to focus on younger consumers - to help raise awareness of their right to complain and the role of the ombudsman. Recognising that younger consumers access information differently from older people, we look at different ways of communicating with this age group - and we work with a range of specialist partners to help get our message across. This includes:

  • Featuring tailored messages in youth publications and websites such as The Festival Guide, Verge magazine, universitiesnet.com and The Student Guide.
  • Developing our presence across social media - but keeping our messages and interactions simple and low key, in line with advice from the young people we meet and consult with.
  • Taking part in events like the Gadget Show Live - to encourage young high-spending consumers to confront and deal with financial problems.
  • Supporting Trading Standards' Young Consumers of the Year competition.
  • Working with the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) on a series of initiatives, including a smartphone finance-tips app and features on their website.

older consumers

Over a third of all consumers who referred complaints to the ombudsman service during the year were aged 55 or over - and 25% were retired.

The proportion of people aged 55 to 64 who complained to us remained the same as in the previous year - and 18% more people aged 65 or over brought complaints to us, with significantly more complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI). In fact, during the year the proportion of PPI complaints we received from consumers aged 65 or over increased from 11% to 42%.

… the proportion of PPI complaints from consumers over 65 increased from 11% to 42%

Consumers over 55 are more likely to pursue a complaint to an ombudsman for a final decision, if they are unhappy with an adjudicator's view. However, this largely reflects the types of financial products involved - with older people more likely to have more complex products such as pensions and investments, where more money may be at stake.

what do consumers between 55 and 64 complain to us about? %
payment protection insurance (PPI) 42
bank and savings accounts 16
investments and pensions 15
loans 13
household/motor insurance 7
consumer credit 3
other 4

As part of our outreach work we continue to remind older and retired people about their right as consumers to use the ombudsman service, should they have a dispute with a financial business. This work also helps us better understand the issues faced by older people in their dealings with financial services.

Awareness of the ombudsman service has been steadily rising among older consumers over the last few years. 15% of people over 65 can now name the ombudsman service without any prompting - compared to 10% in 2010. 76% of this age group has some awareness of our service - compared with 86% of people aged 55 to 64.

… 47% of consumers aged over 65 told us they didn't have internet access

Our research continues to show a significant divergence within the older age-groups between consumers who are confident users of technology and those who cannot, or do not, use computers and the internet. 24% of consumers between 55 and 64 told us that they did not have internet access - rising to 47% of consumers aged 65 or over. The figure for people over 65 without internet access was 64% in the previous year. Just 1% of people between 25 and 34 say they do not have internet access.

To reflect this difference in preferred communication methods, our range of communications with older people includes:

  • Taking part in face-to-face events - such as the Caravan and Motorhome Show, the Retirement Show and the 50+Show.
  • Featuring on "silver surfer" websites.
  •  Focusing targeted messages through specialist publications - such as Retirement Today, Mature Times and Choice, the lifestyle magazine for people over 50.

the diversity of our own workforce

43% of people working at the ombudsman service at the end of the year were aged between 25 and 35 - with 6% of our workforce older than 55. The age of our employees ranged from 19 to 73 years old.

Across our workforce as a whole, 51% are male and 49% female (54% and 46% respectively in the previous year).

At the end of the year, women accounted for 55% of our non-executive board, 57% of our executive team and 47% of our panel of ombudsmen. 21% of our employees are from non-white ethnic minority backgrounds.

During the year we took part in the Best Companies survey that measures workplace engagement. Although we did not get into the "Top 100", we achieved "one to watch" status.

consumer awareness of the ombudsman

As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service, we continue to research levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.

levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman service %
people who could name us, without any prompting 17
people who said they definitely knew of us, when they were told our name 44
people who said they may have heard of us, when they were told our name 14
people who didn't recognise our name or know who we were 25

As well as analysing demographic information about the consumers who bring complaints to the ombudsman service, we continue to research levels of consumer awareness of the ombudsman more generally across the adult population.

Tracking differences in levels of awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups and communities is very important as part of our commitment to:

  • Understand why some people do not know about us or use our service.
  • Identify where there could be barriers - which we could minimise or remove - preventing some people from bringing complaints to the ombudsman service.

Over the last few years, levels of awareness of the ombudsman have remained steady. 17% of the adult population can actively name us, without any prompting, as the organisation whose job it is to help consumers sort out individual disputes with financial businesses. This rises to around one in five people between 35 and 64 who can actively name us.

Including consumers who say they know about us when they are prompted with our name, 75% of adults are aware of the ombudsman service.

awareness of the ombudsman service across different groups of consumers %
men 77
women 73
18 to 24 year olds 44
55 to 64 year olds 84
Asian / Asian British consumers 61
White consumers 77
professionals and managers (AB consumers) 81
unskilled (DE) consumers 70
people in Wales 75
people in Northern Ireland 54
people in Scotland 75
people in England 75

This table shows varying levels of awareness across different groups of consumers. Broadly speaking, those less likely to recognise our name or know about us are consumers from DE socio-economic backgrounds, younger people and Black/Black British consumers.

There is more information in this chapter about the targeted consumer initiatives we run to help raise levels of awareness of our service - where our research identifies specific groups of more vulnerable consumers, or those who appear less likely to know about, or to use, our service.

For example, while overall awareness of our service among Black/Black British consumers still remains relatively low, unprompted awareness increased the most during the year among Black/Black British consumers - with 15% now able to name us without any prompting, compared to 11% in the previous year.

We also continue to prioritise our outreach work in Northern Ireland. This includes working closely with consumer groups and the media, advertising on buses, and taking part in the largest agricultural show in Belfast each year. While general awareness remains relatively low, the proportion of people from Northern Ireland who refer complaints to the ombudsman service is proportionately in line with the overall population figures.

consumers who do not use our service

In our consumer research over the year, 18% of people on average said they had had a problem with a financial product or service - rising to 26% of people aged between 45 and 54.

64% of the people who told us they had had a problem with a financial product or service said they went on to make a formal complaint to the financial business involved. And 69% of these people said they were satisfied with the business's response - the same as in the previous year.

Of the 31% of people who said they were dissatisfied with the business's response to their complaint, a half took no further action - a similar figure to the previous year. This meant they did not refer their complaint to the ombudsman service.

Consumers aged under 25 and over 65 were least likely to take any further action - even though they remained unhappy with the business's response to their complaint.

Consumers aged between 35 and 44 were most likely to pursue their complaint further - with 61% saying they would take further action, including referring their dispute to us.

… consumers under 25 and over 65 were least likely to take any further action - even though they remained dissatisfied

We are very interested in people's reasons for not pursuing a dispute to the ombudsman service - if they are unhappy with the business's response to their complaint. We want to understand whether barriers - real or perceived - may exist in accessing our service, and where we may need to target specific outreach and awareness-raising activities or adjust our casehandling procedures to address any access issues.

why consumers say they didn't pursue a complaint - even though they were dissatisfied with the business's response %
"I didn't think I would achieve anything" 30
"I found it too stressful" 21
"I found the business difficult to deal with" 17
"I had other more important priorities" 10
"I didn't think it was worth my time" 8
"It didn't seem worth it for the money involved" 5
other 9

Our research shows - unsurprisingly - that consumers who do not refer unresolved complaints to the ombudsman service are also those who are least likely to complain formally to a financial business in the first place. These are generally younger people and consumers from the unskilled (DE) socio-economic group.

The majority of consumers who do not pursue complaints - either to the business in question or to the ombudsman service - say this is because they cannot see the point in complaining, find the experience too stressful, or are put off by the process involved.

We have carried out research during the year to help us better understand people's approach and attitude to complaining.

attitude to complaining

People's attitude to complaining - and the way in which they feel about our service - is significantly related to demographic factors, such as their age, gender and socio-economic background.

But we recognise there are factors that could affect people's approach and attitude to complaining which may not be defined by, or limited to, specific demographic groups.
This is why we carried out research last year, to see how different personality types feel about complaining and how they respond to situations involving complaints.

This research showed that, broadly speaking, consumers identify themselves as one of three distinct groups (or "segments") when it comes to complaints.

how consumers feel about complaining % of consumers in general % who initially contact the ombudsman helpline % who register a complaint with us "formally" % who pursue a complaint to the final ombudsman decision
"Complaining is a hassle, so I'd want to work out if it was worth it. If the process was easy, or someone else would take it on, then I'd go for it." 24 14 16 11
"I generally don't like complaining. It can be quite stressful as it's my word against theirs." 21 39 33 35
"I'd complain and give them a deadline to sort it out. If it wasn't sorted out, I'd take it further. I believe you need to go to the top to get a problem solved." 55 47 51 54

These consumer "segments" appear to confirm a widely-held view that consumers who pursue complaints are more likely to be self-confident, determined and at ease when asking questions and expressing dissatisfaction.

Having this insight into how consumers feel and behave in relation to complaints is particularly important for us. It helps us make sure that our processes are easy to use and flexible - built around, and reflecting, our customers' needs.

As part of this work, for example, we made a series of videos for our website during the year, showing consumers from different backgrounds talking in their own homes about their own personal experience of using the ombudsman service - and telling people "like them" not to be put off or afraid of making a "formal" complaint.

The idea behind using the direct and accessible medium of video to tell people's personal stories is based on research that shows that "seeing someone like me" do it is one of the most effective ways of giving people the confidence to do something themselves.

This is particularly important in the context of complaining - a potentially strange and uncomfortable experience for many people, who would rather use a claims-management company, or not pursue a complaint at all, than complain direct themselves.

… seeing someone like me do it is one of the most effective ways of giving people confidence

Of course, consumers can refer complaints to the ombudsman service only after they have already been through the complaints procedure of the business they are unhappy with. This means that attitudes and behaviour - on both sides - may already be entrenched before our own involvement starts.

trust

Our consumer research monitors the level of trust that people have in the ombudsman service. 70% of adults across the UK say they would trust the ombudsman service - the same as in the previous year.

This compares with 76% of people who say they would trust their local Trading Standards and 80% of people who say they would trust Citizens Advice. On the other hand, levels of consumer trust in financial services trade associations appear significantly lower - at 49.5%.

14% of people who had heard about us - but had not used our service - said they would trust us completely (13% in the previous year and 10% in the year before that). This compared with 27% of people who would trust Citizens Advice completely and 3% of people who would trust a financial services trade association completely.

But when people had directly experienced our service, their level of trust in us increased more than four-fold - with 63% of consumers trusting us completely at that stage (50% in the previous year).

Consumers aged between 18 and 24 were over a third more likely to trust us completely than any other age group. Women trust us slightly more than men - and a far higher proportion (35%) of Asian consumers trust us completely than any other white or non-white group. Consumers from the DE socio-economic group are also more likely to trust us completely.

"… when people had experienced our service, their level of trust in us increased more than four-fold

how do consumers who complain to the ombudsman
rate the service we provide?
% of consumers who agree % of consumers who express no view % of consumers who disagree
we handle complaints efficiently and professionally 79 10 11
we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with the issues thoroughly 75 7 18
our decisions on cases are fair and unbiased 61 14 25
we settle disputes within an acceptable length of time 58 15 27
we provide a good dispute-resolution service for consumers 70 10 20
we provide a service that you would recommend to family and friends 77 7 16

Our research during the year - to hear what consumers who had used our service thought about it - included postal surveys sent to 10,000 people whose complaints we had worked on. Broadly the feedback from these surveys about the level of service we provided showed some improvements during the year.

There were improvements across four out of six aspects of our customer service including:

  • An increase from 70% to 75% in the proportion of people who agreed that we get to the bottom of complaints and deal with issues thoroughly.
  • An increase from 51% to 58% in the proportion of those who said we had settled complaints within an acceptable length of time.

Given the very substantial increases in the volumes of payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints being referred to us throughout the second half of the financial year 2011/2012 - and the challenges of scaling-up our operations to deal with the numbers and issues involved - we recognise that it will be difficult next year to build on these improvements in how consumers rate our timeliness in resolving cases.

There were no year-on-year changes to the two other aspects of our customer service - with 61% agreeing our decisions are fair and unbiased and 70% saying we provide a good dispute resolution service overall (both the same ratings as in the previous year).

… 77% of people said they would recommend us

During the year 77% of people whose complaints we handled said they would recommend us to family and friends (74% in the previous year). Having our service recommended by customers is important to us, because our research shows that many consumers first heard about us from a friend, relative or colleague.

what % of people think we're ... very quite not really not at all
helpful and approachable 48 28 12 12
independent and impartial 49.5 26.5 11.5 12.5
authoritative and knowledgeable 51 26 11 12
capable and efficient 48.5 22 14.5 15
respected and influential 49 28 9 14

how does the outcome of a complaint affect how consumers rate our service?

In our postal surveys, of those consumers who said they felt they had "won" their complaint:

  • 89% gave us positive feedback on the level of service we provided
    (88% in the previous year).
  • 4% gave us negative feedback (8% in the previous year).
  • 7% expressed no view (4% in the previous year).

In contrast, of those consumers who said they felt they had "lost" their complaint:

  • 52% gave us positive feedback (51% in the previous year).
  • 35% gave us negative feedback (34% in the previous year).
  • 13% expressed no view (15% in the previous year).

Similarly, 91% of consumers who felt they had "won" their complaint said they would recommend our service - the same as in the previous year. But 58% of those who felt they had "lost" their case said they would do so (56% in the previous year).

This shows how people's personal experience of our service is significantly influenced by how they perceive the outcome of their own individual complaint. Even so, many of those who did not get the outcome they had hoped for still expressed positive views across a range of aspects of our customer service.

And while people who refer complaints to the ombudsman service would clearly like to have their cases upheld, the following comments from consumers indicate those aspects of customer service that also really matter to people who use our service:

  • "I didn't want this hanging on around me - I just wanted things sorted out, one way or the other."
  • "I like dealing with a real person - not a machine."
  • "It's important that a company you've complained about should show they've learned from the complaint."
  • "I want to feel someone really listened to me."
  • "Getting details about me right, and knowing who I am, makes me feel I'm a human being - not just a number in a process."

our website users

Each day during the year over 11,000 people logged onto our website - a 51% increase compared with the previous year.

To find out more about our website users, we run a web-based user-survey each year. Key findings from this year's survey showed that:

  • 67% of people were first-time visitors and 33% had been on our website before.
  • 90% of users were consumers and 10% were using our website for business purposes.
  • 55% of users were male and 45% female.
  • 71% of users said they would definitely visit our website again and 23% said they would probably do so.

Knowing what kinds of people do and do not access our website is very important for us. It helps us make decisions on its design and content. And it helps when we assess the most appropriate channels of communication to get our messages across effectively. It also helps us consider the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of engaging with customers and delivering our service.

what information are our website users looking for? %
information on how to complain 28.5
how to contact us 24
other details about us 14
frequently-asked questions 12
complaints data 8.5
publications for consumers 5
news updates 4.5
other information 3.5
what age are our website users? % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
under 25 5 3
25-34 19 14
35-44 23 22
45-54 26 24
55-64 19 17
over 65 8 20

The overall proportion of people in each age group who used our website during the year remained broadly similar to the previous year.

However, the proportion of people under 25 who used our website increased from 3% to 5% during the year. And the number of people aged over 65 who used our website also rose slightly - continuing an increase we have seen in the last few years. The proportion of older consumers who went on to refer a complaint to us also increased during the year.

However, we know that a significant number of older people still do not or cannot use the internet. Our research shows that 24% of people between 55 and 64 who use our service do not have internet access - rising to 47% of consumers aged 65 or over. Consumers over 65 are more than twice as likely to refer a complaint to us as they are to look at our website.

On the other hand, just 1% of people between 25 and 34 say they do not have internet access. And these consumers are a third more likely to visit our website than to refer a complaint to us.

where do our website users live? % who use our website % who complain to the ombudsman
South East (including Greater London) 23.5 28
North West 16 12
Midlands 15.5 20
South West 10.5 9
North East 7 10
East Anglia 6.5 5
Wales 5.5 5
Scotland 4 9
Northern Ireland 2 2
outside the UK 9.5 less than 0.2

The spread of people using our website across the UK is broadly similar to the previous year.

Consumers in the South East, the Midlands, the North East and Scotland are less likely to use our website than they are to refer complaints to us. On the other hand, more people in the North West, the South West, East Anglia and Wales use our website than actually complain to us.

These trends are also broadly similar to the previous year. We will continue to monitor them to see if we can find out more about what they may mean.

Our website attracts a significant number of overseas visitors - including consumers around the world whose feedback shows that they are comparing our approach in the UK to resolving particular financial disputes with what happens about similar issues where they live.

how did our website users find out about the site? %
through an internet search-engine 56
from a financial business 21
from a friend or colleague 10.5
through a link on another website 9.5
from a newspaper or magazine 3

The majority of people continue to say that they found our website through internet searches - mostly using Google. Other websites from which people are most frequently referred to ours continue to include bbc.co.uk, yahoo and moneysavingexpert.com.

We use "search engine optimisation" to try to make sure that links to our website are listed prominently in the results shown for relevant internet searches. This is becoming more challenging, as claims-management companies advertise increasingly aggressively - and pay premium rates to have their details listed in key positions online.

what stage are our website users at in pursuing their own complaints? %
only browsing at this stage 5
thinking about making a complaint to a financial business 31
waiting for a financial business to reach a decision on their complaint 11
thinking about referring an unresolved dispute to the ombudsman service 31
waiting for the ombudsman service to make a decision on their complaint 22

The number of people using our website who said they were waiting for a financial business to reach a decision on their complaint rose from 7% to 11% during the year - and the number of those who were just browsing also increased (from 2% to 5%).

However, the proportion of people who said they were thinking about complaining - either to a financial business or to us - fell slightly, as did the number of those who said they were waiting for a decision from us on their case.