Caroline's talking about avoiding those pesky jurisdiction banana skins...

It’s my turn today to write a blog. And I can’t lie, in my eyes I picked the short straw because the topic is…. wait for it….. jurisdiction. How on earth did Sarah palm this one off on me?

But, stay with me. Take a deep breath and together we’ll get through this.

Now I know some people get excited at the ins and outs of jurisdiction but I’m not one of them. It comes as part of the package of handling complaints. A necessary evil if you will. A bit like Marmite (other yeast-based products are available) or waxing (I’m saying nothing).

So why write a blog about something I find difficult to be excited about?  

Because like Sarah said in her video last week, understanding jurisdiction matters. And no, I’m not saying we all have to get excited about it, but to help us handle complaints we at least need a passing grasp of the main elements of this section of the DISP handbook.

The gnarly stuff under DISP 2.3 and 2.6, covering Activities and Territory deal with the nuts and bolts of whether the business (and where it happened) is covered by the ombudsman. In truth, it’s not something many firms fall foul of too much these days because over the last twenty-odd years we’ve all got used to what the ombudsman does and doesn’t cover.

The other two areas in this section; Eligibility and Timeliness, under DISP 2.7 and 2.8, however can still both throw the odd banana skin in the way of firms when they are handling complaints. But for the sake of our sanity, I’m going to focus on just one of them today. The one where we see firms trip up the most. And that’s around Timeliness.

There is nothing more annoying (OK there is, but for the sake of hammering this point home with conviction) than realising that a complaint you thought was out of time – a regulator’s way of saying ‘’you’ve left it too late customer’ – gets in under a technicality. But the key here is to communicate often and clearly with your customers.

Back in the day of mortgage endowment complaints – remember those? We got our heads around the ‘six years from the date of event or three years from when they ought to have been reasonably aware’ mantra. What that taught us was the importance of clear and consistent communication from firms after the deal had been done.

Firms that had good post sale communications would do well at showing the customer had been on notice about a feature of a product for some time. And those that hadn’t, well didn’t. Because, if Mr Bloggs from Cheshire calls you saying he didn’t know he had an interest-only mortgage ten years after taking it, if he’s had statements and correspondence saying otherwise, in clear language, then it’s a tough one to argue that he wasn’t ‘reasonably aware’ less than three years ago.

But where we still see the biggest trip hazard for firms is around the six-month rule. This is the rule that says a customer has six months from the date of the final response to contact the ombudsman. But – and this is the crucial bit – to rely on that time limit, a firm must say this clearly in its final response letter. And any firm that doesn’t attach or enclose the ombudsman’s leaflet or give the correct referral rights also runs the risk that the ombudsman will take the complaint on – even if more than six months have passed since the final response was written.

If firms get this bit right, it’s unusual for the ombudsman to say that it wants to look at a complaint where a customer has left it more than six months after the date of the final response letter to contact the ombudsman. It can though; where there are exceptional circumstances, but this is a high bar and customers aren’t able to jump over it that often.

So what’s the sage advice behind my blog? Know enough about this section of DISP to help you in your role. Be aware of the trip hazards and get the fundamentals right so you leave no room for technical banana skins. And if for any reason you think it’s a complaint the ombudsman shouldn’t or couldn’t look at, say so in your final response.

If you’ve redeployed staff to cover your frontline at this time, use our downloads, full of tips to help them deal with interacting with customers. There are more coming so watch this space. 

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