The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is there to resolve complaints about banking services from consumers and small businesses, with turnovers up to €2m and less than ten employees.

The FOS is free to those with complaints and it says it resolves half of its complaints early on. About 40% of complaints go to an investigation and require a formal report. The final 10% require a decision by an ombudsman.

The Office can award compensation of up to £100,000 and the bank has to accept the FOS's decision, however the person who filed the complaint does not have to and retains the right to go to court instead.

Complaints procedure

If you have a complaint, your first step is to complain to the bank. Ask the bank for details of its complaints procedure. You need to follow this through (usually to head office level) before bringing your complaint to the ombudsman. However, your bank is obliged to handle your complaint within six weeks.

If you get to the end of the bank's procedure without your complaint being resolved, the bank will say your complaint has reached deadlock (the bank should use that word) and that you have six months to take up your complaint through the FOS. You should not need legal help to take this complaint forward as the FOS should advise you on what information it requires. The FOS will then inform you and the bank of its decision. It may offer a compromise if it feels that the situation is not black and white and will generally look to resolve the matter. It's services are not as formal as a court but it does have powers which financial companies are bound to follow.

The Ombudsman also has to decide if the complaint comes within the Service's rules. These lay down what it can and cannot do. There are time limits and other conditions, which apply. If the bank thinks your complaint is outside the Office's rules, it may have mentioned this in the deadlock letter. But it is the ombudsman who decides, not the bank.

You should be aware that the Ombudsman takes on hundreds of thousands of case every year and only has a staff of a few hundred. Therefore, some cases can take months to resolve. The complexity of your case is another factor as is the speed with which the complainant and the bank reply to requests for information.