Translating DISP1.4

DISP – 1.4 – Investigate, Assess and Resolve complaints a.k.a doing the complaint basics

They say a change is as good as a rest don’t they, but wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could take a hefty swipe at DISP to tidy it up and get it updated for 2020 and beyond. So, this month’s DISP under the microscope is DISP 1.4. We’ll give you some food for thought, in terms of working within the framework of the rules that still loom large in today’s complaint handling.

1.4.4 outlines the very basics of complaint handling including ‘investigate the complaint competently, diligently and impartially’, as well as how to look at the complaint and what to take into account.

Let’s be honest, for anyone that has been in complaints for a while (and I raise my hand here), this rule can come off as a bit, well…obvious. Because, who in their right mind would ignore a complaint from a customer, not respond and not want to do a good job of investigating it? No-one you would think, but here’s the thing, during my time as an adjudicator I have seen some pretty ordinary examples of complaint investigations.

What does ‘good’ look like and how can I be impartial?

It’s pretty subjective isn’t it? But, whenever I spoke to businesses that hadn’t really nailed their complaint investigation, it was never a question of the business not wanting to investigate the complaint. Whenever I spoke to them, they thought their communication was clear and their investigation good. No, it was more that the business felt that the customer’s complaint was unjustified. This bled into the investigation and leached out in their communication with the customer. It was then reflected as having invested less into the complaint as a whole, leaving the customer baffled, angry or feeling that they were being called a liar.

Taking a step back and away from 1.4.1 for a minute, a complaint, as defined by DISP overall is ‘…an expression of dissatisfaction, whether justified or not…’. And this means in terms of 1.4.1 you need to be able to step away from the emotions, in order to be able to be ‘impartial’. Don;t get me wrong, this was easy for me because I wasn’t the one being complained about. I was the one that was able to come in as an adjudicator and not take any offence or feel hurt, disappointed or angry that my work had been criticised by a customer.

For me it’s about being able to step into that customer’s shoes and walk around them for a while. Empathy in other words. If you can’t walk in their shoes then how about thinking how it would feel if this happened to your parents, your siblings, your partner? Would they understand the inner workings of a SIPP and how could you explain to them that a mistake had or hadn’t been made?

That for me, forms the basis of being able to move away from a shaky and emotional baseline for a complaint. Because it makes it impossible to be able to pragmatically investigate the complaint, coming to a fair and ‘impartial’ outcome, if the emotions the complaint elicits are your own rather than the customer’s. So this is where 1.4.2 can come in to help you.

DISP 1.4.2 describes the ‘how’ – how to consider the complaint in terms of what you can include in your consideration. Again, this brings nothing earth-shatteringly new for those of us that have been in complaints handling for a while, but let’s park our scepticism and have a look at the suggestions:

  • All the evidence and the circumstances of the complaint
  • Similarities with other complaints you’ve received
  • Relevant guidance from the FCA, other regulators and the FOS
  • Previous decisions made by the FOS

It all seems pretty par-for-the-course doesn’t it? I mean, when have you ever considered a complaint without looking at the circumstances? But here’s the thing, time and time again, as an adjudicator I saw complaints from the same businesses about largely the same thing. I found it frustrating, and dare I say it, boring, to keep looking at the same issues. So, I can only imagine the business and their staff must have felt equally fed up too.

What does this actually look like in 2020?

So, what can you do to try and stop the pattern repeating itself? It comes down to doing your Root Cause Analysis (I know I’m like a broken record…), doing your research and making sure you keep up with what’s going on at the Ombudsman as well as the FCA.

Sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? But, really for me it’s about combining long term and short term solutions. Root Cause Analysis is a long term project, if you’ve not been using it to help prevent complaints yet. It means reviewing what you have been doing to date and, potentially, amending, updating and investing so that it works for you as well as ticking the box for the FCA.

In the short term, it also comes down to reading the information available from the FCA and the FOS, sharing it out amongst your staff. And yes, we know the ombudsman’s database is hard to search for anything meaningful, but it is there for you to be able to look up other similar cases as per 1.4.2.

If that seems like hours of lost time, then there is also Ombudsman News, which is a good place to see what the ombudsman service is up to in terms of what their focus is. Big hint here, if the ombudsman is focusing on something, it’s because lessons aren’t being learnt out in the industry. And the FCA does publish its consultations and updates on what’s happening.

1.4.3 is all about resolving the complaint as soon as you can.

How much time is the right time?

Interestingly, you’d think that customers’ in 2020 and beyond, would want a resolution as soon as possible and, best of all, by yesterday. But, as Caroline will talk about in her video next week, that’s not the case, because there’s a sweet spot in terms of timeliness when it comes to complaint resolution. And that is of vital importance when you’re working in this area in 2020 and beyond, because like most of life, things are getting faster. But watch Caroline’s video in terms of how fast is fast enough or for some, too fast.

And then finally, 1.4.4 – co-operating with the Ombudsman Service, or in other words do as the ombudsman service tells you.

What does this look like in 2020 and what if I don’t think I’m being fairly treated?

There was a time that I worked with small businesses, when I was an adjudicator investigating Mortgage endowment complaints, way back when. There was a small number of businesses that refused to have anything to do with the Ombudsman Service – right down to not responding to any correspondence. There were various reasons for this, chief amongst them was fear because awards can potentially put you out of business when you don’t have ongoing PI cover. But, no good can come out of ignoring the Ombudsman Service.

My advice, work with the service as much as you can. You’re the expert in this complaint because you were either there at the time, or you work for the business and know the product/process/systems etc. In either case, working with the Ombudsman Service doesn’t mean you have to meekly accept everything that is said and there are ways to push back so that you are heard and understood. Chief amongst this advice, would be make sure you communicate clearly with the investigator and know when to push it to the ombudsman if you think the outcome is wrong.

We have a whole workshop dedicated to this subject, so if you are stumped and want to know more have a look at the events we have scheduled to get yourself up on the process (

So by looking at DISP and asking yourself some searching questions with today’s expectations and tech layered on, you can make DISP distant but also work for you, not the other way around…

If you want to get ahead of the pack, have a look at our events page for our training events

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