/ 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.