/ Money, Shopping

Have you ever gone to an ombudsman?

Complaining cartoon character

Where do you go when your complaint isn’t resolved? The ombudsman, of course! But how many of us use them? Here’s Helen Dewdney, also known as The Complaining Cow, raising awareness of ombudsmen.

Various surveys this year found that consumers are unsure about their rights. Some of those will go on to complain and some of those will be fobbed off by traders. Of those that continue to complain when things go wrong, very few will carry on to the Small Claims Court or ombudsman route.

With Small Claims Court fee rises this year many people will be discouraged from using that route. It is possible that ombudsmen will become more popular, but it is still the case that many people do not know of the various ones out there.

Here, of course, Which? readers will mostly be au fait with their rights and knowledge of ombudsmen, but what more can be done to inform people? Most of us have heard about the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and those that cover the communications industry. But I only found out recently that there is a Furniture Ombudsman! Who knew?

Ombudsman problems

There are of course issues with ombudsmen services. I’ve found using the FOS a very simple and easy process, but my complaints were basic and clear cut and should never have really reached the stage of the FOS. It still all took time though and I have heard from people who have been months and years battling with the FOS.

My experience using the communications ombudsman CISAS wasn’t good. I used it many years ago and it was fine, but this year I found that the administration was atrocious. Staff took weeks to reply to emails and in the meantime I was sending further information which they did not add to the submitted form. A very frustrating experience all round.

I’d be interested to hear others’ experience of using an ombudsman and thoughts on how services could be improved to make people more aware of them and ultimately to use them.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is by Helen Dewdney, author and blogger at The Complaining Cow. All opinions expressed here are Helen’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


From the authors site:
” 7) Watch out for delivery costs. These might make the items less of a bargain compared with another site. Some of the bigger more well known stores will offer free delivery for orders over a certain amount. Simply order something else you don’t want as well and return it (if free return) and bingo, free delivery 🙂 ”

While much makes sense in her 22/12/14 blog on how to shop this “tip” seems to me to be a deliberate abuse. I am quite ashamed for her and also Which? for giving her a bigger platform.

Driving up costd for stores by this sort of behaviour no doubt means others are paying.

Thanks for your comments Diesel Taylor. We offer guest spots to a number of contributors – from community members to company managers – to cover a range of consumer views. As we mention in the disclaimer above, all opinions expressed here are Helen’s own and not necessarily those of Which?.

Thanks Charlotte

I have been known to order extra items – that I can use – to benefit from the free delivery and I think that is a fair method to employ and should be highlighted. Particularly when I am buying 10kg tubs of dishwasher and washing machine powder adding a couple of boxes of toilet paper makes a worthwhile delivery.!

And one thing in life is sure is that toilet paper will be required : )

I see UPS in the US say they will be delivering around 4 million returned items back to sellers and I am beginning to wonder …..

I do something similar and add on a small item if I’m just a few pounds away from the free delivery. I try and make these small token gifts – candles / chocolates etc – that could come in handy later in the year. So many of the voucher sites provide codes for free delivery too its worth seeing if anything is available this way too. I do a search for ‘free delivery code for x shop’ and usually find something to get a few pounds off my purchase 🙂

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
7 January 2015

I have now clarified the post, thank you for your feedback. I hope though that you found the rest of the site full of free information and advice useful and entertaining

Thank you for the amemdment which makes the piece totally acceptable : )

I am told that Hotter do not charge for returned items but they do charge for the cost of the original order if the returned shoes take it below the free shipping limit.

I do like your activist approach to problems as regrettably we as a nation/organisation seem a tad supine in taking up a complaint seriously. I do make the distinction between trivial complaints and serious complaints.

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
8 January 2015

I’m getting old I think. Years and years ago I used to do catalogues where of course it didn’t matter what you ordered and returned you were paying over the odds anyway! I am also just about to head back over and add to the post the startling omission! Of course for many stores there is the “deliver to store” option. (Remembered just because I have just ordered from Next and refuse to pay delivery!)

Can’t be bothered with trivial complainers – I call them Extreme Complainers (see the post on “What type of complainer are you?”

Seems a fair enough practice with Hotter to be honest. Unless the returned items are faulty then they would be breaking the law! Often think it is a hard business for online footwear, customers have no idea how comfortable a shoe/boot will be.

renniemac says:
29 December 2014

I went to the Financial Ombudsman re Endowment Mortgage, when I discovered there was a short fall in Mortgage repayment. at the time we took the Endowment was 1981. we were advised that we would receive a lump sum on maturity, which wasn’t materialising the nearer we got to the mortgage end. I contacted my mortgage provider who said the financial advisor was an independent, I found I was getting nowhere, so contacted Ombudsman. they found in favour of mortgage provider. end of story. then some years later I had friends who had same problem, I helped them with Ombudsman as I had previous dealings. I helped them get a lump sum back, so thought I would try Ombudsman again, again I was denied so gave up. but although mortgage is finished and we did have short fall to pay, I do still think we were miss sold policy. as other options where not made available to us. in the end I chalked it up to an experience never to repeat. I was successful helping friends but not myself.

I used the ombudsman for energy to help us deal with appalling behaviour by the energy company First Utility earlier this year. Overall, I would give the ombudsman a score of 6 out of 10.
I found myself working for the ombudsman. For example, we had to keep the ombudsman on the right track when it became apparent that he was reading a different version of First Utility’s terms and conditions to our version. This, together with other matters lead to long delays in him finding in our favour. The other problem with using the ombudsman was that the £130 compensation awarded did not reflect the actual wasted time I spent dealing with First Utility i.e. on the phone- fruitless emails- recorded delivery correspondence to the CEO. Very approximately I spent of the order of 100 hours dealing with First Utility so that works out to around £1.30 per hour, well below the current minimum wage. The energy companies are no doubt aware of this situation which works in their favour in reducing the use of the ombudsman except by the most determined people. If compensation was perhaps increased ten fold the energy companies might begin to compete with one another.

Isbjorn says:
30 January 2015

From my experience, (see my other three postings in this series of threads), I would score the FOS zero out of ten, indeed I would give the FOS a negative score if possible. I would be very, very, very, wary about using the FOS again.

PS with regard to my post above, the last sentence should have read: If compensation was perhaps increased ten fold the energy companies might begin to compete with one another and customers would make more use of the ombudsman system.

I was wondering what we could learn from our fellow EU members when it comes to dealing with these pan-national energy companies. As the Nordic countries are the home of the Ombudsman concept that would be a place to start, then Germany for organisation, and France for bolshie consumers …..

That £1.30 an hour is a bad joke. We have had incompetence from the past two companies and are about to move to a new one leaving SSE … lets see how it goes.

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
9 January 2015

There is now a retail ombudsman but not statutory, it needs to be!

who do I contact for complaints about Unilever (Persil) – would that count as retail ? I have gone as far as I can within their company

Karen says:
10 January 2015

I have recently written to the financial ombudsman over a life policy issue. They’ve since written back advising it could be up to 8 months before they even pick up my case then investigation time will be on top of this. Frustrating as given what the complaint relates to, I just want closure now.

That is a shocking amount of time to wait. Perhaps yuo could outline the detail and name the Company here. Who knows that there be someone who could help you here – and perhaps sensitive souls at the Ombudsman and the insurance company may also be readers : )

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
14 January 2015

Yep – have you written to the CEO of the company?

I would like Which to highlight Isbjorn’s experience in a future topic, either about ombudsmen or car security and features


and read all the way down

Isbjorn says:
30 January 2015

My experience with the FOS has been a shocking and costly waste of a year – https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/section-75-legal-rights-credit-card-claim-backs/comment-page-1/#comment-1388965. I have now commenced a complaint against the ombudsman as the final decision report simply does not address my original complaint – but I am being stonewalled with “the ombudsman’s decision is final and cannot be changed” – this appears to hold true even if an ombudsman has exhibited gross negligence or incompetence (so what’s the value in the FOS inviting complaints about its service?). The adjudicator misrepresented the basis of my complaint – I expressed my objections and invited the adjudicator to revise her findings before forwarding my case to an ombudsman for review. The adjudicator unilateraly referred my case to an ombudsman without any revisions and without consulting with me, i.e. she made no effort to reconcile the differences in her INTERPRETATION of my complaint against the meaning that the originator intended – that is a shocking fundamental error. I then had to send a “chaser” letter, directly to the ombudsman in an effort to mitigate the adjudicator’s mistakes and pleaded the ombudsman to have a dialogue with me to make sure my case was understood. The ombudsman never made any attempt to so verify her understanding of my case – another fundamental error. It seems the ombudsman is omnipotent, in many respects, including selecting which of all of the material facts he chooses to take into account and what goes into the final decision report. The final decision report on my case does not contain ANY material facts and therefore the ombudsman has immediately failed to demonstrate an understanding of the case; neither does it contain an evaluation of the merits for and against my case; indeed it actually contains two false statements which constitute falsifications of the record of the case, all of which strongly suggests that the ombudsman lacks competence or, and I think is more likely, the ombudsman was not prepared to make a decision of magnitude that could ripple right through the motor industry and thus created an environment in which to avoid openly and honestly presenting and discussing my case. It should be MANDATORY, to demonstrate that the case has been understood and analysed fairly, that the final decision report MUST contain an expression of the material facts and an open discussion of the merits of the case, but, I am told, by the FOS, that it is the ombudsman who decides what goes into the report. Thus, if as it seems to be the case, the FOS has so little control over its ombudsmen, then this calls into question the integrity and the credibility of the FOS as an organisation.

Isbjorn says:
30 January 2015

If you are making a complaint to an ombudsman I strongly recommend limiting the basis of your complaint to just ONE issue. I took advice from Trading Standards before making my section 75 claim and a part of that advice proved to be incorrect and fatal. The ombudsman gave preference and prominence to dismissing a minor aspect of my case that I had been wrongly advised by Trading Standards to include in the grounds of my complaint (misrepresentation). The principal and valid component of my complaint about the goods themselves not meeting the requirements of the Sale of Goods Act, i.e. what my case was really all about, was relegated to a trivial matter at the end of the final decision report – so badly presented and discussed that my principal complaint was almost indiscernible (https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/section-75-legal-rights-credit-card-claim-backs/comment-page-1/#comment-1388965). In my opinion, the minor issue provided the ombudsman with the opportunity to use diversion to distract attention from having to properly and fairly address a challenging decision (“smoke and mirrors”) which he/she was reluctant to make.

So, keep your complaint to ONE issue so as not to provide the ombudsman with an easy “escape route”.

Isbjorn says:
30 January 2015

If complaining to the FOS, consider what it may cost you to provide yourself with alternative goods for the duration of the FOS’s handling of your case. Once you have decided to reject goods, you should not continue to use them as this would be seen, by default, as constituting acceptance of them – thus inherently undermining the legitimacy of your complaint. My complaint was about a car; once I commenced my complaint then I could no longer use it, so I had to use another car – I didn’t expect the ombudsman to take a year to handle my case, thus it’s been very costly (about £1,000) and my original car has devalued by about £10,000 (and now, because the ombudsman didn’t support my case, I’m stuck with it – I would have been better off just getting rid of it straight away instead of pursuing my consumer rights). When I complained to the FOS about the excessive delay, I was told that running another car was my choice and therefore they were not liable because of their delays (I live in the remotest rural part of England; suggesting that I should be car-less for a year is ridiculous). I was also told that I could have avoided these costs by not pursuing my complaint in the first place! (i.e. I should have forfeited the pursuance of my consumer rights to avoid incurring the costs) – what a ridiculous statement coming from the likes of the FOS.

Disgruntled Consumer says:
8 June 2016

Went to retail ombudsman with a complaint about an online toy retailer. Complete waste of time. Was only after spending an hour filling in their online complaints forms that I found out they have zero powers. The retailer in question just ignored them and the ombudsman emailed to say they couldn’t get a final answer from the retailer so were closing my case. Useless and pointless organisation if they can’t force a retailer to even engage.

Please could you provide more detail. Such as the precise ombudsman and the nature of you complaint to them . You may not be alone from suffering a shoddy product or service but until the size of the complaints can be ascertained then it is hard to organise a collective action.

The little-used Which? Members Forum would be an ideal place for people to record dissatisfaction about companies – and indeed Ombudsman. I can transfer it there to see if members generally have had the same problem.


You may need a password.

Tim Leigh says:
20 October 2016

Went to the Energy Ombudsman. Found them to be heavily biased in favour of the energy company. Won’t do that again, straight to the small claims court!

You could try that approach Tim, but the court will expect you to have tried to resolve the problem by using available resolution services. There are considerable fees for making a court claim and no certainty of success.

I have written to the financial ombudsman about a PPI refund from Lloyds TSB, and my case was sorted out. It was a very efficient process and I was pleased with the result.

Having first exhausted the Complaints Procedure with our local council; sent copies of all correspondence to the Local Government Ombudsman. I was informed that they filtered all complaints, and that my problem was not presented to the ombudsman. Was told that in the opinion of the staff member, my only response would be to sue the council. I should add that the staff member did not to seem to grasp the relevant details, and was biased in favour of the local authority.

G Holdcroft says:
22 September 2017

I went to offgem over a problem with an energy company. In my view offgem were useless, biased in favour of the industry and excruciatingly slow. I won’t use offgem again but I will examine my small claims options instead.

I am trying to escalate a complaint against Virgin Media to Cisas and am finding it very frustrating. The system kicks you out after 30 mins. Filling in their form and attaching photos takes longer than 30 minutes. So you have to start over. When you phone them all you get is “sorry”
It should be like other sites eg insurance quotes where you can save your work and login later with a code to continue
I get the feeling they don’t really want you to complain to them

Richard Gray says:
14 January 2020

Dear Sir,

I am currently in dispute with Vodaphone over a phone contract cancellation fee of £980.00 It was heard by the arbitration service CISAS and Vodafone were given judgement.

I have been doing a bit of research over the weekend and am of the opinion that CISAS is not remotely independent being wholly funded and paid for by the companies involved, one has only to look at their own statistics to see who they work for with just 9% of claimants winning there cases, the old adage of not biting the hand that feeds you comes to mind.

I cancelled my phone contract with Vodafone after four months of poor service and broken promises with Vodafone admitting its failings at every step, i had documented evidence to support my claim that i should not have to pay a cancellation fee and i was astonished at the decision that in the judgement that i should still have to pay for the cancellation. (currently £980.00)

I am effectively being asked to pay for Vodafones appalling service to me.

I was also concerned as to Vodafones apparent lack of interest in my case, now i know why, they knew they would be awarded judgement, they have never stopped demanding the money having passed it over to numerous debt collecting agencies.

CISAS have indicated that their decision is final.

Where can i go to get justice in this matter, how do i get Vodafone to hold off until it is resolved. Ofcom do not deal with Vodafone.


Richard Gray.

Hi Richard,

I’m sorry to hear about the dispute with Vodafone and the unfortunate decision from CISAS.

I appreciate your view of the independence of CISAS. Most ombudsmen/adjudication schemes are funded in similar ways. This is usually a combination of government funding and industry funding. Unfortunately in order for these schemes to exist, they heavily rely upon funding from the companies that subscribe to their services.

This means that there will always be a question as to whether their decisions can truly be independent. If they didn’t charge companies for being members of their schemes, they would likely have to charge consumers instead. Therefore it is a difficult balance between remaining truly independent and providing access to all consumers.

If the decision from CISAS has been rejected then usually the next step would be to consider court action. If Vodafone still believe they are entitled to this money then they could take you to court to recover this money. I would therefore encourage you to consider contacting us for a detailed conversation about your consumer rights.

This information is provided by Which? Legal. To join call 01174 054 854 or visit Which? Legal to find out more.

Thomas Holloway

Legal Adviser

Kate says:
8 March 2020

I too went to CISAS following very poor service from Talk Talk. I am interested to hear about CISAS being funded by the firms they are “apparently” investigating so therefore can not be impartial. I too was informed that they were closing my complaint and had sided with Talk Talk although they clearly had not done much investigating or even read the documents I uploaded as proof. This was clear from their replies. We certainly live in a capitalist society.

David Paul says:
10 August 2020

No Virgin landline phone for EIGHT months and not believed!
I have just had the CISAS verdict on my complaint about Virgin removing an external cable in May 2019 and being without a landline till January 2020. Virgin contested and said I had a partial service and CISAS has taken their side so I am being offered only partial compensation. Virgin produced a log of their many engineer visits to try and fix and each one noted that I wasn’t eligible for the compensation scheme ie that I had a partial service – how could that be when I had none? What should I do now …?