If you feel like you have been misled or mistreated or have suffered financial loss because of unfair treatment by a financial provider then you might want to submit a complaint. Below are the steps you will need to follow:

Before you complain

When making a complaint you should ask yourself what are you hoping to achieve. Is it realistic to expect any financial reimbursement or will a simple apology or change of policy resolve your problem? This will enable you to more clearly state your expectations to the financial provider.

Contact the company directly

The first step you should take is to contact the company in question directly and explain your problem, your reasons for having to make a complaint and what you would ideally like them to do to resolve it.

Try to stay calm and polite even when you are feeling upset and angry about the way you have been treated. Keeping calm will make it easier to explain your problem - being abusive or rude is unlikely to speed up the process.

It may be that the first person you speak to is unable to respond directly to your complaint, this may be because they are not authorised to do so, are unfamiliar with the complaints process or that information they need to respond is not readily available.

So, when you call to complain you should be willing to leave the complaint with the company so they can investigate it properly and then give you a response. Under current rules businesses have up to 8 weeks to deal with customer complaints.

However this first phone call is the start of the complaints process so it is worth treating it in a fairly formal manner, especially if it is likely that your complaint is unlikely to be sorted that day. Make a note of the staff member's name and when you called and agree a time for them to call you back.

Agreeing a deadline for a response is helpful for you and the member of staff dealing with your complaint. It is worth remembering that staff may need to gather information from a variety of sources to enable them to respond to your complaint; however they should be able to give you a realistic deadline for your problem.

Send a letter

If you feel that your complaint has not been handled appropriately over the phone the next step is to formalise your complaint in the form of a letter.

This letter should outline the reason for your complaint, what was covered in the discussion you had with a member of staff over the phone and why you feel that the complaint is still unresolved.

Also remember to include any of your customer details, reference numbers and contact information so they know who you are and how to get in touch with you.

It may also be advisable to ask for an acknowledgement of your complaint, that way you will know the company has received the letter and has started looking into your problem.

Once the financial institution receives your letter they should investigate thoroughly and respond to your problem in writing. They may also choose to contact you over the phone to discuss the problem if they need more information or to discuss what actions they can take to resolve the issue.

It is important to keep a record of any conversations you have as well as a copy of the original letter you sent. This will not only help you keep track of the progress of your complaint but will also prove useful if you need to take your complaint further.

The majority of banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions give a rough time period that they will aim to resolve formal complaints by on their websites. This is usually in the region of 2-4 weeks.

Send a second letter

If you feel your complaint has not been dealt with appropriately or that it has simply taken too long then you may want to think about sending a second letter to the company.

In this letter you should include the following:

  • The nature of your complaint - It is good to inform the person reading the letter what the original problem was as it may be a different member of staff who looks at the letter to any who have been dealing with it previously

  • A copy of your first letter - Including this will show that you feel that your complaint is ongoing and that it hasn't yet been resolved.

  • Who you have spoken to & what was said - This will stop staff essentially revisiting areas that have already been discussed and should speed up the complaints process

  • What you expect to happen - Again this makes it abundantly clear what you feel needs to happen in order for your complaint to be resolved

  • Your personal information - make sure to include this so they can identify you and get in touch with their response

Contact the Financial Ombudsman

If after contacting the financial institution you feel that you're making little progress the next step is contacting The Financial Ombudsman.

The Financial Ombudsman is an independent organisation set up by parliament to review customer complaints for no charge. It has the power to force businesses into action and to compensate anyone who has lost out.

It is worth noting the Ombudsman will not accept any case where the financial institution has not had 8 full weeks to investigate. Beyond that period they will look at investigating the problem on your behalf.

In order to submit a complaint to the Ombudsmen you will need to complete a complaint form (available on their website ) and send it to them in the post.
Alternatively, you can also fill in and submit the form online.

If you have any problems completing the form you can call 0300 1239 123 and they can help you complete it. (If your complaint is linked to payment protection there is an additional PPI form you will need to complete).

The time it takes for the Ombudsman to look into your complaint can vary depending on how complex the case is and if both parties are will to agree to a compromise solution. The Financial Ombudsman currently aims to resolve disputes between six and nine months.

It is worth noting that the decision of the Financial Ombudsman is usually regarded as final in most cases as they are in place to provide an independent verdict.

If the Ombudsman does rule against a complaint they should explain their reasons for doing so and why they feel the financial institution has done nothing wrong.

Appeal via independent assessor

If you are not happy with the way that the Financial Ombudsman has dealt with your case then you can contact The Independent Assessor.

The Independent Assessor is appointed and paid for by the Financial Ombudsman board and is there to review any case where people feel they have been let down by the Ombudsman.

However the independent assessor can't reverse the decision of the Ombudsman adjudicating your case. It is limited specifically to the service you have received from the Financial Ombudsman.

In exceptional cases the Independent Assessor can suspend an investigation into a business if a final verdict has not been reach by the Ombudsman.

Take the issue to court

If after appealing to the Independent Assessor you still feel that your complaint has not been fairly dealt with then the final course of action you can take is to seek legal advice.

If you have formally accepted the Ombudsman's decision then it is legally binding on both you and the company meaning there is little else you can do. However if you've rejected the decision then you are free to take the matter to court.

There are legal companies who take complaints to the small claims courts on the behalf of customers, however when you reach this stage it is worth considering the costs you may incur.

Every action up until this point is free of charge; however the costs of hiring legal experts to present your case may cost more than any potential refund or compensation you could expect to receive from the financial organisation.

Investigate the likely cost, compare this to what you're likely to get in return and decide whether it's worth it.