In July 2015, a piece of European law called the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) directive was brought into effect. This law expressed the need for alternative ways of resolving contractual disputes between consumers and businesses to be widely available across the UK and the EU.
We are an ADR entity under that piece of law and work closely with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – the “competent authority” for financial services under the directive.
But we’re still independent of the regulator in the way we investigate and decide individual cases.
What does the directive include?
There are a number of requirements in the directive – many of which we already met before it came into force. For example, we’re free for consumers and complaints can be brought to us in a number of ways – including online. And our investigators and ombudsmen have the knowledge and experience they need to do their work consistently to the highest standards.
The directive also encourages the speedy resolution of consumer complaints, and ADR providers like us should aim to give customers an answer to a complaint within 90 days.
We always try to answer complaints as quickly as possible. If we think a case will take longer than 90 days – because, for example, it’s affected by something outside our control like a court case – we’ll let the consumer and business know how long we think it will take.
In recent years, dealing with the volumes of complaints we’ve received about PPI and short term lending have had an impact on how long things take.
Not every complaint we deal with is covered by the directive – for example, the complaints we receive from small businesses, charities and trusts aren’t.
Were there any other rule changes that affected our service?
Yes. For example, we're only able to look into complaints referred to us late if the business actively agrees to us considering the complaint.
But we may still look into a complaint referred to us late if there are exceptional circumstances – even if the business hasn't given their consent.
And the rules which set out how we "dismiss" complaints at the ombudsman service – and how long we have to do so – were simplified.
Can a consumer still go to court if they don’t want to accept the ombudsman’s decision?
Yes they can, but you can find out more information about how we reach a decision and what to do if you don’t want to accept the decision on our ‘How we make decisions’ page.
What are the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) regulations – and where do they fit in?
The ODR regulations are designed to complement the ADR directive – they came into force on 9 January 2016. These regulations say that consumers should have easier access to redress for cross-border online disputes, such as internet sales, across the EU.
We already work with other countries in Europe to help consumers find relevant schemes in other EU member states. And under the ODR regulations there will be a single online "portal" to direct complaints to other schemes if the business isn’t based in the UK.
Where can I find out more?
We publish an annual activity report (PDF 77KB) which includes data on things like how many complaints we’ve received and how long they take to resolve on average.
There’s also more about the changes in the Financial Conduct Authority's consultation on improving complaints handling (PDF 87KB).