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How to complain about a bank or lender

A customer can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service about their bank, financial services provider, or mortgage lender because of unfair treatment.

This content applies to England

What a customer can complain about

A customer can complain about:

  • something that happens during the application for a financial product

  • something that happens during the life of the product

  • unfair treatment, including discrimination

  • a firm's failure to follow FCA rules

Refusal to offer an account

The customer can't usually complain about a firm's refusal to offer them an account or financial product, unless it is a basic bank account and the person meets the criteria for an account.

The customer can complain if the firm's refusal to provide an account or product is a result of unlawful discrimination.

How to complain to the firm

Banks and other financial institutions should have a clear internal complaints procedure. The bank should keep the complainant up to date with how the complaint is being dealt with.

The bank should publish details of its complaint procedure on its website or in its branches.[1] The bank should send details of the process to anyone who asks.

The person should contact the firm as soon as possible and keep a record of all dates and everyone they spoke to.

The FCA sets out the rules for how banks must deal with complaints in the dispute resolution section of the FCA Handbook.

Complaint in person

The person should take a copy of all relevant documents when making a complaint in person. They should ask to speak with an account manager or branch manager. The person could contact the bank in advance to make an appointment with someone who can deal with a complaint.

A complaint in person should be followed up in writing where possible.

Make a written complaint

A person can make a complaint in writing to the bank. An adviser can help the person to draft their complaint letter.

A complaint letter should set out:

  • that it is a complaint

  • the background to the complaint and what the firm has done wrong

  • what loss or damage this has caused the complainant

  • what the complainant expects the firm to do to put things right

  • what the complainant will do if the complaint is not resolved to their satisfaction

Firm's response

The bank should give its final response within eight weeks.[2] If the bank is not able to respond within eight weeks, it should provide a written response explaining why.[3]

The person can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if they are not satisfied with the firm's final response, or the firm does not provide a final response within eight weeks.

What the ombudsman can deal with

The Financial Ombudsman Service is an alternative dispute resolution service that deals with customers of FCA authorised firms. It is free to use and issues decisions that are binding on the firm.

The ombudsman can deal with complaints about most financial services, including:

  • mortgages

  • loans and other credit

  • bank accounts, payments, and cards

  • debt collection and repayment problems

  • claims management companies

The ombudsman cannot consider matters that have already been considered by a court. The court should encourage parties to use alternative dispute resolution when exercising its case management powers.[4]

Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) complaints

The ombudsman cannot consider complaints about the operation of IVAs. These should be made through the Insolvency Service Complaints Gateway. The ombudsman might be able to consider a complaint about bad advice to enter into an IVA from an FCA authorised firm.

How to complain to the ombudsman

The complaint must first be made to the firm being complained about. If the complainant is not satisfied with the firm's response, or they do not receive a reply within eight weeks, they can ask the ombudsman to make a decision.

The complainant should complete and submit the Financial Ombudsman Service complaint form.

The complainant should explain how what has happened was not fair or reasonable and the impact it has had on them. They can refer the ombudsman to relevant law, rules, and guidance, but this is not necessary.

Time limits

A person must complain to the FOS within:[5]

  • six months from the firm's final response

  • six years of the event being complained about, or, if later, within three years of the time they became aware they had a cause for complaint

The ombudsman can extend the time limits in exceptional circumstances.

How the ombudsman considers the complaint

The Financial Ombudsman Service considers the complaint with reference to what they consider fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the case.[6] They should take into account relevant law, regulations, guidance, and codes of practice.[7]

The complaint is usually dealt with by a case handler. The case handler reviews everything submitted by the complainant and the firm and makes a recommendation to resolve the complaint. If either party does not accept the assessment, they can ask for the complaint to be referred to an ombudsman.

Status of the ombudsman decision

The ombudsman undertakes a full review of the complaint and makes a final decision. The complainant can choose whether to accept the ombudsman's decision. If they do, it becomes legally binding. If the complainant does not accept the decision, the ombudsman's involvement in the case ceases and the decision is not binding on the firm.

Ombudsman awards and decisions

The ombudsman can make an award of money, including compensation for:[8]

  • financial loss

  • pain or suffering

  • damage to reputation

  • distress or inconvenience

The ombudsman can instruct the firm to pay for some or all of the costs incurred by the complainant, and interest on the money owed.[9]

The ombudsman might give instructions, requiring the firm to take steps that the ombudsman considers just and appropriate.[10]

Financial Ombudsman advice desk and past decisions

The Financial Ombudsman Service technical advice desk can advise professionals helping the public by clarifying whether the FOS will be able to consider a particular complaint and what approach they would take.

The Financial Ombudsman Service looks at complaints on a case by case basis. It publishes a directory of previous ombudsman decisions as well as various case studies on its website.

Template letter: Complain about unfair treatment

People who have not been treated fairly by their bank can use Shelter's template letter to complain.

Advisers and caseworkers can complain on behalf of their clients as long as they enclose evidence of their authority to act.

Copy the template into an email

Ask the bank for the best email address to use to make a complaint.

(Use the subject line: Complaint about unfair treatment)

Dear bank manager,

I am writing to complain about unfair treatment from your bank. 

I came into your branch today to ask about a basic bank account. 

Your bank treated me unfairly by not giving me help to follow the right process to open a basic bank account.

I think the bank might have treated me differently because (for example: I’m homeless, I was born outside of the UK, I have a history of financial problems, I have communication needs, I identify as non-binary)

This has meant I have not been able to open a bank account. I have also experienced inconvenience and emotional distress. 

Under the FCA Principles for Business (FCA Handbook, PRIN 2.1) you must: 

  • treat customers fairly 

  • communicate with customers clearly 

  • pay due regard to the information needs of customers 

You must also follow FCA guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. 

I would like you to give me the help I need. 

I would also like you to improve your customer service so that no one else has to experience this kind of unfair treatment.

I expect to receive your final response on this issue within 8 weeks. 

If I do not receive a satisfactory response, I will take my complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.

Download the template

The person making the complaint can send the template as an email attachment or print it out:

Last updated: 21 December 2022


  • [1]

    DISP 1.2, FCA Handbook.

  • [2]

    DISP 1.6, FCA Handbook. 

  • [3]

    DISP 1.6, FCA Handbook.

  • [4]

    1.4(2)(e) Civil Procedure Rules.

  • [5]

    DISP 2.8.2, FCA Handbook.

  • [6]

    s.228 Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.

  • [7]

    DISP 3.6.4, FCA Handbook.

  • [8]

    DISP 3.7.2., FCA Handbook.

  • [9]

    DISP 3.7.9., FCA Handbook.

  • [10]

    DISP 3.7.11., FCA Handbook.