The Independent Assessor
The Independent Assessor (“IA”) will deal with service complaints and will commence this function on 1st April 2017. In the meantime, all service complaints should be directed to Sir Eric Peacock.
A service complaint is about the practical handling of a case. The IA will ask questions such as: Was the correct process followed? Was the administration efficient? And did the ombudsman keep track of correspondence or case papers?
A service complaint doesn’t cover the use of judgement by an adjudicator or ombudsman on what evidence is needed, what weight is placed on the evidence, or whether a complaint should be upheld. The IA will therefore not comment on the outcome of a case or the facts of your original problem with the business – just how it was handled.
You can complain to the IA about the practical handling of your case if you’re the person who made the complaint to the ombudsman, if you’re the business who was complained about or if you think you’ve been affected by how the ombudsman has handled a case.
The IA is appointed by the Board of TRO, but is not part of the day to day running of the ombudsman. The Independent Assessor will not be accountable to the chief executive/chief ombudsman or the Board of TRO and will also be free from influence, guidance and control in respect of reviews, opinions and recommendations.
The independent assessor’s terms of reference
Making a complaint
1) The independent assessor is appointed by the board of The Retail Ombudsman (TRO) to consider service complaints about TRO and its schemes – retail, aviation and utilitiesADR.
2) The independent assessor can consider complaints about the standard of service provided by the TRO. This covers the practical handling of a case – but not disagreements about its outcome.
3) Any person or business directly affected by how TRO deals with a case can complain to the independent assessor.
4) Before a complaint can be made to the independent assessor, TRO must have had a reasonable opportunity to respond through its own internal process for dealing with service complaints.
5) A complaint to the independent assessor must be made within three months of TRO confirming that it has completed its own internal process for dealing with the service complaint.
6) The independent assessor can’t comment on the facts or outcome of a case. This includes TRO’s use of judgement about:
whether a complaint is within TRO’s jurisdiction;
whether to dismiss, reject or uphold a complaint; or what redress to award.
7) Generally, the independent assessor will only consider a service complaint after TRO has completed its investigation of the case against the financial business. But in exceptional circumstances, they can tell TRO to put its investigation on hold while they look into the service complaint.
8) The independent assessor will not consider a complaint where:
a) You have previously made a complaint to the independent assessor about the same issue;
b) Your complaint is frivolous, vexatious or malicious;
c) Your complaint is made by a third party or representative without your prior written signed authority; and/or
d) Your complaint relates solely to matters other than our handling of the complaint against a business, for example, how we have responded to a Freedom of Information or Subject Access Request
9) The independent assessor will notify both the individual or business and TRO of the issues their report will cover.
10) TRO will – usually within two weeks – provide the independent assessor with all its files relating to the service complaint, together with its comments on the issues the report will cover.
11) The independent assessor might need to ask the individual or business or TRO for any further information that they consider necessary to complete their report.
12) The independent assessor will give their findings in writing to the person or business who made the service complaint and to TRO. There is no further appeal against the independent assessor’s opinion and recommendations.
13) If the independent assessor decides that TRO hasn’t met its service standards, they can make a recommendation to the chief ombudsman. This might be that TRO should apologise – or should pay compensation for any damage, distress or inconvenience caused by the poor service. Compensation will be equivalent to what the ombudsman would award against a business in similar circumstances.
14) If the chief ombudsman accepts a recommendation from the independent assessor, TRO will write to the individual or business that made the service complaint and will notify the independent assessor.
15) If the chief ombudsman doesn’t accept a recommendation, they will notify the independent assessor. The independent assessor will refer the matter to the board of TRO. The board will usually decide on their response at their next meeting.
16) If the board decides not to accept a recommendation, they will give their reasons to both the independent assessor and the person or business making the service complaint. The reasons will be published in the annual directors’ report.
Reporting on complaints
17) Each year, the independent assessor will report to the board of TRO on the number and nature of the complaints they have received, and the recommendations they have made to the chief ombudsman (or referred to the board) in the last financial year.
The independent assessor’s annual report will be published within TRO’s annual directors’ report, together with the board’s formal public response.