Rip Off Britain And Tackling Rogue Traders

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA
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Feeling unfairly treated or ripped off by a financial firm?

If you are, you can list the help of an independent ombudsman or consumer watchdog to help resolve your dispute and win compensation.

Several organisations offer free, confidential and impartial advice to consumers with a grievance.

Here’s a list of those that can expats sort out their disputes with UK businesses and advisers – and an explanation of what they do and how to start a complaint.

What is an ombudsman?

An ombudsman is and independent and impartial adjudicator who resolves complaints from consumers who feel they are victims of unfair treatment from official bodies and businesses.

Ombudsmen handle complaints that involve unfairness, hardship or financial loss.

The service is free and ombudsman who rule in favour of a consumer can order redress or compensation.

The alternative is taking a complaint to court.

Complaining to an ombudsman

You cannot go straight to an ombudsman when you have a complaint.

You must give the business or organisation you are complaining about the chance to put matters right. If they fail to do so to your satisfaction or refuses to listen, ask for a letter of deadlock to take to the ombudsman.

The letter is the result of a complaint and the final chance to resolve the dispute before going to the ombudsman.

You can find a template letter of deadlock that is free to download here

If there is no response after a reasonable time – say 14 days – get in touch with the ombudsman.

You can find a list of the UK’s official ombudsman schemes at the umbrella body the Ombudsman Association.

Each ombudsman is likely to treat complaints in a different way – for instance, timescales for dealing with the dispute may vary as well as the evidence needed to prove a case.

Go through this with your ombudsman to make sure you present your case in the best way.

What happens if you win your dispute?

The result of your complaint is different from winning a court case – the level of compensation is much less.

Remedies can cover one or more of:

  • An explanation for why the dispute arose
  • An apology
  • Changes in the way the business or organisation works to avoid similar disputes with other customers
  • A compensation payment

If you win and the business or organisation fails to respect the ombudsman’s decision, they can be ejected from the scheme.

The exception is the Financial Ombudsman Service, whose decisions are legally binding on members.

Who Are The Ombudsmen?

Here’s a list of ombudsmen of most interest to expats. They mainly cover financial services and other services that expats are likely to use.

Although ombudsmen are independent, they work closely with financial services regulators, who also have powers to deal with consumer complaints. Scroll down to see these regulators listed in the next section.

Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)

The Financial Ombudsman Service is a one-stop shop for complaints about banks, investments, insurance and financial advisers.

Financial firms are obliged to treat clients fairly – and the FOS is there for when they don’t.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact the Financial Ombudsman Service

Call 0300 123 9123 between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Complete this online form to make a new complaint

Financial Ombudsman Service online

Pensions Ombudsman

The Pensions Ombudsman deals with complaints from retirement savers about the way their funds and investments are handled.

The ombudsman’s remit cover UK pensions, so expat pensions like the Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) or the Qualifying Non-UK Pension Scheme (QNUPS) are not included.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact the Pensions Ombudsman

Call 0800 917 4487 from the UK or +44 (0) 207 630 2200 from overseas between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Email enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk

Pensions Ombudsman web site

Legal Ombudsman

The Legal Ombudsman resolves disputes between legal service providers and their clients. Providers include solicitors, conveyancers and legal executives.

The ombudsman has power to refund or reduce fees, order the return of documents, pay compensation and order extra work to put matters right.

Jurisdiction: England and Wales

Contact the Legal Ombudsman

Call 0300 555 0333 from the UK or +44 (0) 121 245 3050 from overseas between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Email enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk

Legal Ombudsman web site

The Property Ombudsman Service (TPOS)

If you have an unresolved dispute with a letting agent, estate agent or other property professional, then the Property Ombudsman can help sort matters out.

The service covers most of the UK, but excludes Scotland, which has its own ombudsman.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact the Property Ombudsman

Call 01722 333306 from the UK or +44 (0) 722 333306 from overseas between Monday and Friday from 9am to 4.30pm

Email admin@tpos.co.uk

Property Ombudsman web site

The Tenancy Deposits Scheme (TDS)

TDS arbitrates complaints between landlords, tenants and letting agents over the payment and refund of security deposits for private rented homes.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact The Tenancy Deposits Scheme

Call 0300 037 1000 between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Complete this online form to make a new complaint

Tenancy Deposit Scheme web site

Removals Industry Ombudsman

For complaints between expats moving overseas and removals firms. All members of the National Guild of Removals and Storers belong to the scheme.

The ombudsman considers disputes that remain unresolved after the guild has ruled on the complaint.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact The Removals Industry Ombudsman

Complete this online form to make a new complaint

Removals Ombudsman web site

Other Ways To Complain

If you can’t ask an ombudsman to deal with your complaint, you can try these other consumer watchdogs:

Citizens Advice – Advice Direct Scotland

Citizens Advice is a free service with a wide-ranging brief, including helping people with legal and financial problems.

Among the services are a consumer helpline and pension advice for the over 50s.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact Citizens Advice

England: Call 03444 111 444 between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Wales: Call 03444 77 20 20 between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Scotland: Call 0800 028 1456 between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Citizens Advice web site

Trading Standards

Trading Standards is a public body linked to councils that roots out businesses that trade illegally or fraudulently.

If you have problems with a trader or business, it’s worth checking the trading standards office where they are based to find out if any other complaints are under investigation.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact Trading Standards

Go to the Trading Standards web site to find the appropriate office to speak to by entering a postcode or call the national helpline on 0808 223 1133

Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS)

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme protects consumer cash and investments when a financial firm fails.

Redress is up to £85,000 for a single consumer and £170,000 for a couple.

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact the Financial Services Compensation Scheme

Call 0800 678 1100 from the UK or +44 207 741 4100 from overseas between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday

Online and web chat are available here

Financial Services Compensation Scheme web site

Small Claims Court

You can make a DIY claim online or speak to a solicitor about taking your grievance directly to a county court.

The court will agree to send a case to mediation if both sides agree, or you can enlist the help of the Civil Mediation Council (CMC) yourself.

This course of action has some differences from going to an ombudsman –

  • Going to court costs money to file a claim and to enforce any court orders should you win. You may also have to pay for legal advice, which does not come cheap
  • If you make a DIY claim, you must complete the court case papers yourself
  • If you do win your case, the court has the power to order much higher levels of compensation

Jurisdiction: UK

Contact the Small Claims Court

Making a county court claim online

Rip Off Britain And Rogue Trader FAQ

Expats do not have to put up with disappointing customer service and poor outcomes from British financial firms just because you are an expat.

If the offending behaviour took place in the UK or was initiated by a firm based in the UK, then expats can ask an ombudsman to take up their cause.

Will an ombudsman take my word or call for more evidence?

An ombudsman will make a ruling based on how fairly you have been treated as a client or consumer.

The burden of proof is on the balance of probabilities, which is far easier to prove than beyond reasonable doubt expected in criminal courts.

To prove your case, the ombudsman will want a statement from you about what has happened supported by relevant paperwork, like emails, contracts, letters and invoices.

What if the ombudsman rejects my case?

An ombudsman can turn down investigating your complaint for several reasons. The main one is acting out of time, which means the time limit for pursuing compensation has passed. This limit varies between ombudsman but can be up to six years from receiving the advice or service you are complaining about.

If the ombudsman rejects the case, your only real recourse is through the courts – and if your complaint is time expired this avenue may not be open either without a special direction from a judge.

Do I have to settle for the ombudsman’s ruling?

No. You can go to the ombudsman and let them help build your case. If you are successful but the result or compensation falls short of what you want, you can then take the matter to court in some confidence that your case will be upheld there. You may find the business you are in dispute with is more likely to settle if this happens.

Does where I live as an expat matter to the ombudsman?

No. The key factor is if the business or organisation you are complaining about is based in the jurisdiction the ombudsman covers.

If the complaint relates to a financial firm and you live in Europe, you can take the matter to The European Financial Dispute Resolution Network (FIN-NET)

You can find a list of members here plus affiliates in Switzerland and the Channel Islands.

Can I make a complaint for someone else?

Yes, but you must have the other person’s permission to make the complaint. If they are dead, you will need to show the will and a copy of probate.

How long do ombudsman complaints take to sort out?

You have six months after receiving a letter of deadlock to make a complaint unless special circumstances apply.

From there, the length of the investigation depends on the complexity of the cases. Some are completed within a few weeks, while others can take a year or longer.

Can a business complain to an ombudsman?

Generally, no. Business to business disputes are considered commercial matters and best decided by the courts. 

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