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Complain to an ombudsman

An ombudsman is a person who has been appointed to look into complaints about companies and organisations.

Ombudsmen are independent, free of charge and impartial – that is, they don't take sides with either the person who is complaining or the organisation being complained about.

Using an ombudsman is a way of trying to resolve a complaint without going to court.

In most cases, you must complain to the organisation first, before you make a complaint to the ombudsman.

There are a number of ombudsmen:

An ombudsman should be a member of the Ombudsman Association. Visit the Ombudsman Association website to check whether an ombudsman is a member.

When to complain to an ombudsman 

You can complain to an ombudsman include if:

  • an organisation hasn't followed its own policies or procedures
  • you've experienced rudeness from an organisation's staff
  • there's been a delay in taking action or a failure to take action
  • you've been treated unfairly compared to others
  • you were given wrong or misleading information

An ombudsman will only look into a case if:

  • you've suffered personal injustice, hardship or financial loss because of the action (or lack of action) of an organisation
  •  you've already given the organisation an opportunity to resolve your complaint

In most cases, an ombudsman can't look into a decision made by an organisation just because you disagree with it.

An ombudsman will not investigate your case if it's about to go to court or if court action has been started. In some cases, the ombudsman will not look into cases which could be dealt with by a court or tribunal.

How to complain to an ombudsman

Check the ombudsman's website for details of how to make a complaint - most of them have an online form.

You might need to send copies of any paperwork that's related to your complaint, so it's a good idea to have it ready.

What happens next

If an ombudsman finds that your complaint is justified, they'll recommend what the organisation should do to put things right. An ombudsman can't force an organisation to go along with their recommendations, but organisations almost always do.

Investigations by an ombudsman sometimes take a long time.

Claiming expenses

If you need to spend money making a complaint to an ombudsman, for example travel expenses to an ombudsman's office, you may be able to claim this back. You should check with the ombudsman first before you spend any money that you want to claim back.

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