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:

  • For issues with the NHS you can make a complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman

  • For issues with local authorities you can make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman

  • For issues with government departments you can make a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman

Health Service Ombudsman

The Health Service Ombudsman will look into the following kinds of issues:

  • Poor quality of service, care or treatment

  • Delays in your care or treatment

  • Not being provided with the appropriate service which you were required to receive

  • Having made a complaint the way in which the Health Service has dealt with your complaint

Local Government Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman will look into the following kinds of issues:

  • Issues with council housing such as transfers and repairs

  • Educational issues – child being excluded from school or not being provided with the adequate place

  • Social services

  • Benefit issues

  • Planning applications

Examples of Private Sector Ombudsman

Financial Services Ombudsman

The Financial Services Ombudsman settles individual complaints between consumers and businesses which provide financial services.

The Financial Services Ombudsman will look into complaints relating to the following industries:

  • Banking

  • Insurance

  • Mortgages

  • Pensions

  • Savings and investments

  • Credit cards and store cards

  • Loans and credit

  • Hire purchase and pawnbroking

  • Money transfer

  • Financial advice

  • Stocks, shares, unit trusts and bonds

Office of the Telecommunication Ombudsman

The Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman looks into all disputes which may have arisen from dealings with companies operating in the telecommunications industry.

Complaints will often revolve around the following issues:

  • Billing and payment issues

  • Connection issues

  • Cancellation and termination provisions

The Property Ombudsman

If you have had issues with organisations involved in the private property market then you can take your complaint to the property ombudsman.

The Property Ombudsman will often be required to settle disputes between members of the General Public and Estate Agents and disputes between landlords and tenants and letting agents arising out of the Code of Practice for Residential Sales.