How to make a complaint about your financial services provider

Woman grabbing a bank teller's tie © Getty Images
Keep calm and try the Financial Ombudsman Service

If you’re complaining about a financial services provider, you’ll get further if you follow these three steps.

Most of us would like to have as little as possible to do with financial services companies, whether banks, insurers or pension providers. But if you reach a stage where you need to make a complaint about a service or product, you need to know how best to go about it.

As with most situations where you want to make a formal complaint, your first step must be to contact the firm directly. Before you do so, make sure you have an idea of what you’re looking to get out of the situation. Is your ultimate aim to receive financial compensation? Or are you merely looking for an acknowledgement that they have mishandled your case in some way?

Ideally, your first complaint should be by letter, or at least by email, so that you have a record of your correspondence from the very beginning. The industry regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), must respond to you, in writing, within eight weeks. (You can check a register of regulated financial-services companies on the FCA’s website.) Their reply must detail whether your complaint has been successful, or alternatively why they will require more time to look into it.

If you don’t get a response within eight weeks, or you’re not happy with their answer, you can then go to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). This is a free and independent service specifically geared towards resolving disputes between customers and financial services companies.

The FOS will get in touch with the company to ask them for their side of the story, and then it will decide whether or not to uphold your complaint. Note that you must contact the FOS within six months of receiving a final response from the company, or it may not be able to deal with your complaint, as the FCA points out.

Lawyers are a last resort

If you’re not happy with the verdict of the FOS, you can get in touch with the Independent Assessor (within three months of your response from the FOS), which will look at how the ombudsman handled your case and make a recommendation.

Finally, the last port of call would be to take legal action – though this is only an option if you reject the ombudsman’s decision. If you accept it, then the decision is legally binding.

Note that there are companies who will pursue claims on your behalf, but such help comes at a cost, so you should carefully consider whether the potential benefit outweighs the expense.

Even if you go down the “no win, no fee” route, this could end up taking a significant chunk out of any compensation you are awarded.