How can I settle a dispute through an ombudsman?


What is an ombudsman?

An ombudsman is an independent referee who will look into complaints made by the public against public and private organisations.

These organisations will usually operate their own complaints procedure and an ombudsman will often be sought as a last resort if a complaint cannot be agreed upon through this complaints procedure.

Does it cost to seek dispute resolution through an ombudsman?

Seeking dispute resolution through an ombudsman is a free service.

Can I seek the help of an ombudsman prior to making a complaint through the organisations complaints procedure?

The ombudsman for a specific industry will not consider your application unless you have first used the complaints procedure of the organisation of which you have the problem with.

Are the decisions of an ombudsman binding?

If you seek dispute resolution through an ombudsman the final decision that they make will not be binding on you. This means that if you do not agree with the decision which they have made you will be free to seek another dispute resolution procedure.

This does not apply in relation to the Pensions Ombudsman whose decisions will be binding on both you and the company for which you have made the complaint against.

Should I make sure that the ombudsman whom I seek dispute resolution from is a member of a specific organisation?

All ombudsmen who operate in the United Kingdom and Ireland will belong to the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA).


All ombudsmen who are part of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association are independent from the organisations of which they investigate. This ensures that if you seek dispute resolution from an ombudsman you will get a decision which is totally independent form the organisation of which you are making the complaint against.

Public Sector Ombudsman

What issues will a public sector Ombudsman investigate?

In most cases and especially when dealing with public organisations the Ombudsman will look into the following issues:

  • Whether there has been maladministration in the way that the decision was made

  • Whether the maladministration has resulted in an injustice

Will the public sector Ombudsman look at whether the decision made was the correct decision?

The public sector Ombudsman will concern themselves with the above factors rather than making a judgement on whether the original decision was in fact the right decision.

What is meant by the term maladministration?

Maladministration is taken to mean if a decision taken has not been formulated in the correct way by an organisation which has affected the rights of the individual who has been the subject of the decision.

Specifically maladministration’s can include the following:

  • A specific organisation not following the policies or procedures set down by that administration

  • A specific organisation taking an excessive time to do something on behalf of a customer

  • A specific organisation not doing something which they are required to do

  • A specific organisation treating an individual less fairly than they have treated other individuals

  • A specific organisation providing a customer with wrong or misleading information

The Private Sector Ombudsman

Ombudsmen who deal with disputes arising from organisations who operate in the private sector will investigate the above issues but will generally look into whether the final decision made was fair and reasonable based on industry standards of good practice.


A private sector Ombudsman can even award you compensation if they agree that the decision made by the organisation was not fair or reasonable based on industry standards of good practice.

Examples of ombudsmen

Public Sector ombudsmen

What areas of the public sector are subject to dispute resolution by an Ombudsman?

The following areas of the public sector are subject to dispute resolution by an Ombudsman:

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For more information on:

  • Health Service Ombudsman
  • Local Government Ombudsman
  • Examples of Private Sector Ombudsman
  • Financial Services Ombudsman
  • Office of the Telecommunication Ombudsman
  • The Property Ombudsman