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At the beginning of the year, it’s hard to avoid articles and adverts suggesting tips and products to help you make a new start. And I think, for some people at least, a fresh year can give the impetus needed to give up unhelpful habits and make positive plans.
But realistically, a change in number can’t magic troubles away. And for some people, existing worries may be carried forward into the new year – together with a good deal of uncertainty about what’s ahead. Money-wise, anticipating and planning for the future can be helpful – for example, taking out insurance or saving for unexpected expenses. But while these plans may make upsetting events easier to manage, they don’t actually stop them from happening.
In fact, some well-intended plans can give rise to problems of their own. Many people in relationships have some kind of shared finances – whether it’s a mortgage, a pension or an insurance policy. When everything’s going well, these arrangements can be very convenient. But if the relationship breaks down – as we’ve highlighted in this issue – a combination of administrative troubles and personal feelings can cause extra complication at an already difficult time.
When someone’s dealing with personal upset – whether it’s a break-up, bereavement or worries about the future – it may be too upsetting to talk about it at all. Or it may be difficult for someone to articulate the specific money-related problem they’re experiencing – or the impact it’s having. So it may not be easy for a business – or the ombudsman – to establish exactly what’s happened, let alone how the customer’s feeling.
But from the complaints we see, it’s clear that simple common sense and empathy can go a long way. Not judging or assuming – but perhaps just reflecting on what could be behind the closure of a joint account or a name on an insurance policy. And whether or not someone’s ready to talk about what they’re going through, talking to them as a human, rather than a name and number on a screen.
The ups, downs and uncertainties of everyday life mean uncertainty for businesses and the ombudsman too – as we all look to make sure we’re ready to sort out the problems that inevitably arise. As well as taking stock and making our own forecasts, we rely on the people who use and fund us to share what they’re anticipating for the new year. There’s still time to give your views on our plans for 2016/17 – which we’re consulting on until 2 February.
However well-informed people’s plans, the future can never be certain. But there’s a lot that we and businesses can do to make sure problems are put right as quickly as possible. As Garry Wilkinson explains in ombudsman focus, that’s something we’ll be focusing on as the new year continues.
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.