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Complaining to an ombudsman about consumer issues

This advice applies to Scotland

If you've made a complaint to a company about goods or services but you're not happy with the outcome, you may be able to ask an ombudsman to deal with it. An ombudsman is an independent official appointed to make decisions in disputes between individuals and companies.

Using the ombudsman is free for consumers but traders have to pay.

When can you take a complaint to the ombudsman?

Before you can use an ombudsman service you must go through the trader's formal complaints process and get a letter of deadlock confirming you've been unable to sort out the problem. You don't need a letter of deadlock if it’s been longer than eight weeks since you made your complaint to the trader and you and the trader still can’t agree.

How do you make your complaint to the ombudsman?

You send written evidence to the ombudsman who looks at it and then makes a recommendation or ruling. Each ombudsman scheme has its own rules for how to complain. Contact the ombudsman that covers your problem for details of how their scheme works.

What will the ombudsman do with your complaint?

The ombudsman will look at your complaint and decide what the outcome should be.

They're independent and impartial which means they don’t take sides.

The ombudsman looks at the evidence sent in by both sides and decides what should happen. You don't have to meet the ombudsman so you can avoid the stress of presenting your evidence face to face. But it does mean that you need to be able to write down what’s happened clearly.

What will the outcome be?

The ombudsman can make decisions that you wouldn't necessarily get if you went to court. For example, if you’ve lost money because of something the company’s done, for example, they've given you bad advice or there's been poor administration, they can order the trader to award you compensation or to ask the trader to apologise to you. Depending on which ombudsman scheme you use, the ombudsman's decision may be legally binding - check with the ombudsman you are dealing with.

What if you're not happy with the ombudsman's decision?

You can still take court action if you're not happy with the decision but the court will take the ombudsman's decision into account when they make a decision.

Next steps

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