Guidance last updated July 2019
Detailed case files allow us to make high quality decisions that are fair and well-informed. They allow us to be confident in our understanding of the full circumstances surrounding a complaint, which results in improved acceptance rates and the delivery of a more effective service overall.
If a company does not support its view of a specific complaint with the necessary evidence, it is likely that we will uphold the customer’s complaint and make an appropriate award based on the evidence provided by the complainant.
It is a company’s responsibility to accurately capture and record evidence relating to a customer complaint as part of a case file, which we can then share with the customer by way of an explanation as part of our investigation into a specific complaint.
If a company is in possession of relevant information but fails to include it in the respective case file, the information cannot later be relied upon by the company when making further representations.
In short, if a company is in possession of any information or evidence that’s pertinent to a particular customer complaint, it is vital that all of the information is captured within the relevant case file in order for it to be considered as part of any future investigation carried out by Ombudsman Services.
Every case file should be tailored to the subject matter of the specific dispute raised by a customer. It should not simply capture all and any information you have available relating to the customer in question and their account.
All case files should aim to convince Ombudsman Services that the company’s point of view is reasonable and that it has acted in accordance with the most up to date company processes and procedures.
Ultimately, if a case file is thorough and clearly written, it reduces the need to double check or clarify specific details, thus saving valuable time and resources at both your end of business and ours.
We expect companies to evidence their opinion or perspective of a complaint with any appropriate supporting documentation.
We also expect complainants to provide the same level and standard of supporting documentation as part of their disclosure to us.
As a minimum standard, we also expect a company to provide a copy of its account notes along with the case file. The notes provided should start from the time the customer states the issue began until the present date.
It is not acceptable for a company to simply select the notes they think may be of relevance, as experience tells us this is rarely the case.
When conducting previous investigations, our teams have encountered particular instances whereby a specific company, in their efforts to counter a customer’s complaint, have informed us that they ‘would have followed their usual business process’.
For example, we occasionally receive complaints from customers which state that they did not receive prior notice of a planned increase to prices.
In an effort to counter the complaint, we have received responses from some companies stating that ‘we would have sent a standard letter’. They did not, however, provide us with a copy of the standard letter sent to the complainant as part of their supporting documentation.
In such instances, we need to see evidence that the company has followed the correct process. We cannot simply take the company’s word for it.
In the absence of the addressed letter itself, we would expect to see evidence in the account notes that a letter was posted, as well as a copy of the standard letter template that was sent out to all customers.
We appreciate that providing detailed case files can be time consuming. However, we firmly believe that investing the time and effort at the beginning of the complaints process will pay dividends in the longer term. Not only does it ensure that you provide the fullest and most accurate version of events from the perspective of your company, but it also means we are able to provide both you and the complainant with a high-quality service. That means we are able to complete a thorough investigation into the complaint that also brings closure to the matter for both parties involved.
A lack of information, evidence and supporting documentation not only prevents us from delivering the best service possible – it also prolongs the dispute in many cases. This costs companies time as well as adding more of a financial burden.
You have 10 working days* to prepare your case. To make sure we are able to carry out a timely and accurate complaint investigation, it’s really important that all of the evidence you want us to consider is submitted as part of your case file.
Any evidence submitted to us after the 10-day period may be disregarded, meaning it may not be considered as part of our decision. Once we’ve received your case file, we’ll share it with the complainant and give them the opportunity to comment on the evidence you’ve provided. We’ll also share any evidence submitted by the complainant with you and give you the same opportunity to comment.
*You have 10 working days (up to 5pm on day 10) from the complaint going into ‘prepare case’ status to ‘decide’ status on the Complaint Management System to submit your evidence/case file. If you raise a dispute on the case, the clock is paused for you and the complainant until the outcome of the dispute is provided, and then continues to 5pm on day 10 or until you complete the publication of your case evidence, whichever is sooner. If you propose a Facilitated Complaint Resolution (FCR), the complainant has 7 days to consider the proposal from the date you submit it on the Complaint Management System. If they reject it or do not respond, the case will move to ‘decide’ status when OS will investigate the case, and so you would need to have your evidence/case file submitted then.
When it comes to relationships with customers, the complaints process can understandably cause tension between a supplier and its consumers. Providing an honest, accurate and detailed case file as part of a complaint investigation can help significantly in clarifying the issues raised and in bringing faster closure to a particular dispute. It also helps to restore the customer’s trust in their supplier.
The same cannot be said about a poor case file, however. If a customer is presented with a case file that is incomplete, or does not contain all of the relevant facts, details and supporting documentation relevant to the complaint, this can ultimately worsen the relationship between supplier and customer to the point that it becomes irreparable.