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ombudsman news

issue 120

September 2014

cutting through the confusion

A friend recently told me about an experience she’d had dealing with her mobile phone service provider. She’d been having a bit of trouble with her phone, and even though it seemed to sort itself out after a couple of days, she rang the company to find out what had happened. She wanted to be able to stop it happening again.

But try as she might, she just couldn’t get the person on the helpline to appreciate her problem. She was repeatedly offered £50 compensation – when what she really wanted was an explanation. Ultimately, she went away feeling more bewildered than she had been before she called. And she still had no idea why her phone had been playing up.

For my friend, the consequences weren’t serious in the grand scheme of things. It made a good anecdote for a while afterwards. But at the time, it was incredibly frustrating – she felt really fobbed off.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens far too commonly within the financial services industry as well. Confusion instead of clarity – or “fobbing-off” instead of listening – continues to drive people to us, when things could have been put right so much earlier on.

Mistakes happen, but they need to be learnt from. Earlier in the month, we published information on the number of complaints we’d received, and who they were about. And the data reinforced one thing – some businesses aren’t learning.

This issue of ombudsman news looks at two areas where we see the same types of problems crop up time and again. First we look at travel insurance exclusions – specifically focusing on situations where the policyholder may – or may not – have been drinking alcohol. Then we turn to motor insurance – the second most complained-about insurance product after payment protection insurance (PPI).

In both of these areas, we see too many cases where customers have been treated much like my friend was. As a sector, we need to do something about that.

That means really listening to people – rather than blindly following process. Cutting through the confusion and asking, “how can we sort this out?”

By the time they hang up the phone or reach the end of a letter, people should be feeling they’ve been heard – and confident everything’s in hand.

Caroline Wayman

image: Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.