Barclays has been named and shamed as the high street bank that wrongly rejects the highest proportion of complaints from angry customers.

A whopping 61% of consumers who took their gripe to the independent arbitrator, the Financial Ombudsman Service, about Barclays won their case during the first half of 2010, compared to the industry average uphold rate of 44% for the period (see the Best Bank Accounts guide).

But the bank was not the subject of the most complaints to the Ombudsman in that time. That unwanted title fell to taxpayer-backed Lloyds TSB with a mammoth 12,750, though Barclays was second with 7,991.

Barclays was not the worst financial provider for wrongly rejecting complaints, even if it was the high street name with the most appalling figures.

All protests against insurance provider Eisis, 99% against loan lender Ocean Finance and 90% against Lloyds-owned Black Horse were upheld by the Ombudsman in the first six months of the year.

Most of these relate to mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI), a category that saw a 23% rise in complaints compared to the previous six months. The average PPI uphold rate is a mammoth 81%.

For the arbitration service to uphold a complaint it must first have been thrown out by the firm in question.

Lloyds TSB (where the Ombudsman upheld 45% of complaints against it), Welcome Finance (82%) and part Government owned Royal Bank of Scotland (50%) also performed worse, compared to the industry average.

Santander, beset by recent customer service problems, recevied a relatively high 4,881 complaints against it but only a fifth were upheld indicating, while service may be poor, it may be dealing with complaints reasonably fairly (see the Santander service scandal MSE News story).

The figures are part of stats released this morning showing the number of gripes against financial firms that were taken to the Ombudsman during the first half of this year.

It received 84,212 new complaints in that time – a small increase on the 82,136 received in the final six months of 2009. A whopping 30,000 new protests related to mis-sold PPI.

Yet these numbers are a fraction of overall complaints as fewer than 10% of people rejected by their financial provider take their case to the independent arbitrator.

The table below shows the ten businesses the Ombudsman received most complaints about, ranked by the percentage upheld.

Complaints to Ombudsman – firm-by-firm
Provider Upheld by Ombudsman Complaints
Black Horse 90% 2,136
Welcome Finance 82% 1,954
Barclays 61% 7,991
Royal Bank of Scotland 50% 2,250
Lloyds TSB 45% 12,750
Natwest 43% 2,810
Clydesdale Bank 39% 1,807
HSBC 34% 3,286
Halifax / Bank of Scotland 23% 6,211
Santander 19% 4,881
Data for first six months of 2010. Source: Financial Ombudsman Service

For the full chart of over 100 firms, go to the Ombudsman's website.

Martin Lewis, creator, says: "The great shame is less than 10% of people take their case to the Ombudsman. All these people complain but banks say 'no' as a tactic but we don’t take it further.

"The message here is when you complain expect the firm to say 'no' but ignore that and go to the Ombudsman. It’s a disgrace and we really need to invent a system where banks deal with you fairly."

The Ombudsman says the overall 44% uphold rate is skewed by the 15,000 bank charges complaints that had been on hold that were thrown out after the banks won the historic test case on charges late last year. Discounting those cases, the uphold rate would have been similar to the 53% recorded for the second half of 2009, it stresses.

Natalie Ceeney, chief Ombudsman, says: "The latest set of data shows some businesses are committed to ensuring complaints are handled well but that there is still more that some businesses need to do to ensure that complaints are properly investigated and fairly resolved."

How to complain

If you're unhappy with a service or you've been overcharged, first complain to the relevant provider.

You can take your protest to the Ombudsman if you've had a firm rejection or if you've not had a satisfactory response within eight weeks.

See the relevant guides to get issue-specific complaints tips and free template letters (in the Bank Charges, PPI Reclaiming, Credit Card Charges, Direct Debits, Setting Off, Mortgage Arrears