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Complain to an ombudsman

This advice applies to England

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:

  • Ombudsman Services: Energy can help if you have an unresolved complaint about a gas or electricity company - read our advice about how to complain to the energy ombudsman
  • Ombudsman Services: Communications might be able to help if you have an unresolved complaint about your internet or telephone provider - read our advice about how to complain to the communications ombudsman
  • Ombudsman Services: Consumer might be able to help if you have a complaint about goods or services bought in the UK on or after 1st January 2015 (and online purchases within the EU) 
  • the Motor Ombudsman can help with complaints about businesses which have signed up to one of their codes of practice
  • Ombudsman Services: Home Improvements can help with complaints about members of the Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS) or Home Insulation and Energy Systems (HIES)
  • 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 Ombudsman investigates complaints about local councils and some other local organisations
  • the Pensions Ombudsman investigates complaints about pension administration - they can also look into complaints about the actions and decisions of the Pension Protection Fund, and some decisions made by the Financial Assistance Scheme
  • the Financial Ombudsman Service sorts out problems with banks, insurance, PPI, loans, mortgages, pensions and deals with other money and financial complaints
  • the Legal Ombudsman can help resolve legal service disputes
  • the Property Ombudsman provides a free, impartial and independent service for the resolution of unresolved disputes between consumers and property agents
  • Ombudsman Services: Property can help if you have a problem sorting out a complaint with a property firm or company that's a member of its scheme
  • The Property Redress Scheme deals with complaints against its members
  • The Furniture Ombudsman can sort out problems when you've bought furniture or other items - for example, clothes. The ombudsman can also deal with complaints when home improvements, such as a new bathroom, go wrong.
  • the Housing Ombudsman can help if you're a tenant or leaseholder and you have a dispute with your landlord, as long as your landlord is 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

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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