For many people, August remains the traditional holiday month - when the usual pace of life slows down a little. For the ombudsman service, however, August is a critical time of year as it marks an important stage in our annual planning cycle. Even though we are not yet half-way through the financial year, we have been taking stock of the trends emerging in the complaints we have seen over the past few months - and focusing on what we believe both the rest of this year and the next financial year may hold for us.
Our review of the trends emerging from our complaint numbers during the year to date indicates some good news - and some news that is not so welcome. The good news is that the numbers of complaints relating to banking and investment are levelling off - or falling very slightly. Of course, the reason for that may simply be seasonal. But it may be an encouraging sign of a change we've been hoping for - that some businesses are starting to deal with complaints more effectively, at an earlier stage.
The less welcome news is the ongoing trend we have been highlighting for some time, where a hardening of attitudes on both sides means that disputes are becoming more hard-fought, as consumers and businesses adapt to a tougher economic environment. Some businesses are clearly taking a more legalistic approach, consumers are increasingly less willing to concede, and there is a growing reluctance to reach agreement. As a result, a larger proportion of the cases referred to us are those that are particularly complex and difficult to resolve - with increasing numbers of disputes requiring final ombudsman decisions as the last stage of the process.
As far as our annual planning cycle is concerned, our next step - as we plan for the future - will be the publication in September of a new strategic planning document. This will outline some of the wider changes in the world around us - changes that we believe are likely to have a significant impact both on us and on our customers. The document will highlight how some of the challenges we face are likely to become even more complex in the future. And it will form the basis of important conversations we will be having with our stakeholders over the coming months.
Also in September, we will be publishing for the third time our six-monthly complaints data about named financial businesses. There are clear signs that our publication of this data is already helping businesses to benchmark their standards of complaints handling against others in their sector - and to learn from those who are handling complaints better. Our ombudsman focus feature summarises key points from the information already available on our website about the background to this data and the lessons that can be drawn from it.
chief executive and chief ombudsman
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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.