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MoneySavingExpert calls for eight-week ombudsman rule to be scrapped

MoneySavingExpert calls for eight-week ombudsman rule to be scrapped

MoneySavingExpert.com is urgently calling on the Government, ombudsmen and regulators to change an outdated rule that forces consumers to wait eight weeks before they can escalate a complaint to an ombudsman.

Ombudsmen play a crucial role in consumer protection, but for more than two years, MSE has campaigned for the eight-week wait time to be slashed by at least half. Today we're revealing new research which confirms that consumers need and want this change too. 

Ombudsmen resolve disputes as a final referee between a consumer and a company when they're unable to settle a complaint between themselves. For some, they are a viable, free alternative to court action across a range of services and products – including finance, energy, telecoms, legal services, healthcare and housing.

However, to use an ombudsman, a consumer must first complain to the firm, for example their bank. The firm then has eight weeks to handle their case before an ombudsman will consider the complaint.

Read our new report – called 'Justice Delayed' – in full here.

Martin: 'This rule is no longer fit for purpose'

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "We live in a fast-paced, digital world of instant communications and payments. Yet ombudsmen aren't quick. They weren't designed to be – they evolved in a bygone age. And within their operations was a rule stating that consumers can only go to an ombudsman with a complaint after the firm has had at least eight weeks to try and deal with it.

"It's now abundantly clear that this rule is no longer fit for purpose. Things happen so much quicker. It allows bad situations in our rapid world to snowball out of control, having the potential to destroy people's finances and wellbeing before an ombudsman can even start looking at what's going on.

"It's time for change. The eight-week rule is outdated, outmoded and should be out of here. Today's report explains why change is needed and how it should be enacted, with robust support from the stakeholders that matter, including the ombudsmen themselves, politicians, policymakers, regulators and other consumer organisations.

"The Government, ombudsmen and regulators need to urgently act on our findings. It's time for a change in the time to complain."

What our research found

MSE presented its 'Sharper Teeth' report to Parliament in 2017, recommending that the wait be reduced to between two and four weeks. Since, we've gathered further evidence of widespread consumer support for tearing up the rule – plus evidence on what the new wait time should be.

Our new report 'Justice Delayed' includes qualitative and quantitative research carried out by market research experts YouGov on a nationally representative sample of 2,069 adults. It found that:

  • 89% of surveyed consumers said the eight-week period should be at least slashed in half to 28 days, or even less.
  • 50% said firms should have no more than 14 days to deal with complaints before consumers have the right to take them to an ombudsman.
  • Just 1% of respondents thought the current eight-week process was the best timeframe.

The rule is clearly no longer fit for purpose, and is leaving consumers frustrated, disappointed and out in the cold. MSE is now calling on the Government, regulators and the ombudsman sector to slash it urgently – ideally to two weeks, but no more than four – and make it compulsory and consistent across all industries. It also asks that exceptions are made, allowing people in crisis to escalate their complaint immediately to stop things getting worse.

What do MPs and the ombudsmen say?

Yvonne Fovargue MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Consumer Protection, said: "The eight-week rule was created in a pre-digital age.

"Since we now have the ability to transfer information far more freely and quickly, a waiting time somewhere between two and four weeks should be more than ample. I am not surprised that MoneySavingExpert's research so clearly backs this up."

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman and chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service, said: "We welcome the publication of this report and the insight it provides into customer expectations on how businesses deal with their complaints.

"From the hundreds of thousands of complaints against financial businesses that we deal with every year, we know it is really important that complaints are dealt with as soon as possible, especially when consumers are vulnerable."

Matthew Vickers, chief executive at the Energy Ombudsman, said: “For many consumers eight weeks is a long time to wait to have a complaint heard and resolved, especially if there are financial implications and impacts. Ombudsman Services agree that it’s time the eight week rule was reviewed. We live in a modern age where consumers don’t just want speed of service, but expect speed of service and make buying decisions based on the “how fast can I..?

“Companies are required to notify consumers of the right to come to the ombudsman; that’s not in question. It’s how long before an independent party can get involved which needs reviewing, for the benefit of all parties involved. If two to four weeks helps reduce complaints, helps rebuild the relationship between the provider and the consumer and avoids further customer detriment, then we are all for a change in the rule.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sad that the department would read and consider the report.