Complaining to an ombudsman
An ombudsman is a person who has been appointed to look into complaints about companies and organisations.
Ombudsmen are independent, free and impartial – so they don't take sides.
You should try and resolve your complaint with the organisation before you complain to an ombudsman.
When to complain to an ombudsman
You can complain to an ombudsman if you’ve already complained to the organisation and couldn’t solve your problem through their complaints procedure.
An ombudsman will also investigate your complaint if the organisation takes too long to resolve your complaint - this is usually 8 weeks, but check with the scheme you’re using.
Some ombudsmen won’t investigate old complaints, so you’ll also need to check their cut off point.
An ombudsman will not investigate your case if you have already started court action.
How to complain to an ombudsman
Check the ombudsman's website to see how to make a complaint - most of them have an online form.
You might need to send copies of any paperwork related to your complaint, so it's a good idea to have it ready.
Find an ombudsman
There are two types of ombudsman. Some cover the private sector - they handle financial and consumer complaints. Some cover the public sector - they mainly look into complaints about government organisations and public services.
Most ombudsmen are members of the Ombudsman Association.
Private sector ombudsmen
You can complain to a private sector ombudsman if you have an unresolved complaint about a commercial business that is a member of the ombudsman scheme.
You might need a letter from the trader saying you couldn’t sort out the problem - this is called a ‘letter of deadlock’. You don’t need this letter if the organisation is taking too long to deal with your complaint - this is usually 8 weeks, but check with the ombudsman scheme you’re using.
Using an ombudsman is a way of trying to solve your problem without going to court. Read our guide to solving a consumer problem before you contact an ombudsman.
Private sector ombudsmen include:
- Ombudsman Services: Energy helps with complaints about gas and electricity companies - read our advice about how to complain to the energy ombudsman
- Ombudsman Services: Communications and CISAS help with complaints about phone and internet providers
- the Motor Ombudsman helps with complaints about vehicle sales, service or repairs
- the Rail Ombudsman handles complaints about train companies
- the Financial Ombudsman Service sorts out problems with banks, insurance, PPI, loans, mortgages, pensions and deals with other money and financial complaints - read our advice about getting your money back if you paid by card or PayPal
- the Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme resolve disputes between consumers and property agents
- the Furniture Ombudsman can sort out problems with furniture and other retail purchases and home improvements
- the Pensions Ombudsman investigates complaints about pension schemes and decisions made by the Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Assistance Scheme - they can’t handle complaints about the State Pension
- the Legal Ombudsman can help resolve legal service disputes
Public sector ombudsmen
If you want to complain about a government department, local council or organisation that provides local services, you can use a public sector ombudsman. These include:
- the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates complaints about government departments and some other public bodies - they can also look into complaints about NHS hospitals or community health services
- the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigates complaints about local councils, care homes and some other organisations providing local public services
- the Housing Ombudsman can help if you're a tenant or leaseholder and you have a dispute with your landlord if they are a social landlord or a voluntary member of their scheme
- the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman carries out independent investigations into deaths and complaints in custody
- the European Ombudsman investigates complaints about the institutions and bodies of the European Union
What happens after you complain
The ombudsman will look at evidence from both sides and decide what should happen. An ombudsman’s investigation can take a long time, so you might have to wait a while for a decision.
If the ombudsman decides your complaint is justified, they'll recommend what the organisation should do to put things right.
A public sector ombudsman can't force an organisation to go along with their recommendations, but organisations almost always do.
A private sector ombudsman’s decision could be legally binding. They can make a decision that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you went to court. For example, the ombudsman can ask the trader to apologise or order the trader to compensate you if you’ve lost money.
If you’re not happy with the ombudsman’s decision, you might be able to take court action - but the court will take the ombudsman’s decision into account.