We can help micro-enterprises and small businesses (including self-employed people, partnerships and limited companies).
We can help if you are a micro-enterprise or small business. We can also help some charities and trusts, and individuals who act as personal guarantors for loans to businesses. We set out below more information about how these are defined.
When you contact us, we'll need some detailed information about your business so we can decide whether we can help, we set out below what you'll need to tell us.
The information provided on this page is a summary of the rules relating to who can bring a complaint to us. The full rules are set by the industry regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, and can be found on their website.
Types of business we can help
About 99% of small businesses in the UK can bring a complaint to The Financial Ombudsman for small businesses. According to the rules that set out who we can help, we can look at complaints from:
A micro-enterprise is a business which:
- employs fewer than 10 people and
- has annual turnover or a balance sheet that does not exceed €2 million
A small business is a business which:
- Is not a micro-enterprise
- Has an annual turnover of less than £6.5 million and
- Has a balance sheet total of less than £5 million, or employs fewer than 50 people
Small businesses can bring a complaint only in relation to an act or omission by the financial business which occurred on or after 1 April 2019. Read more about time limits that apply.
We can also help charities with an annual income of less than £6.5 million and trusts with a net asset value of less than £5 million; and individuals who act as personal guarantors for loans to businesses they're involved in.
Use our eligibility checker to get an indication of whether our service may be able to help you.
Common questions we get about eligibility
We've listed some of the most common questions we get about eligibility and how we address them:
How will you calculate the size of my business?
In most cases, the relevant point for determining the size of your business is when you complained to the financial business (not when the act you're complaining about happened or when you bring your complaint to us).
In calculating the size of your business, we apply articles 3 to 6 of the Annex to the Recommendation 2003/361/EC of the Commission of 6th May 2003 concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Annual turnover is the income that a business received during the year in question from the sale of products and/or the provision of services.
- The balance sheet total refers to the gross assets of the company.
- We typically look at the financial statements of the business at the last financial year end.
Limited Company A complained to us about the way its bank handled its recent loan application. As part of our jurisdiction check we had to consider the balance sheet total of Limited Company A.
Its Balance Sheet as at the last financial year end before the complaint was as follows:
Statement of financial position as at 31 March 2020 Notes
Fixed assets Property, plant and equipment 9 2,200 1,930 Current assets Trade receivables and cash 10 860 960 Gross assets 3,060 2,890 Less creditors falling due in one year 11 500 400 creditors falling after one year 12 2000 1,750 Net assets 560 740 Capital and reserves Issued share capital 13 30 30 Retained profits 14 530 710 560 740
We looked at the total assets (or gross assets) figure. This is typically fixed assets plus current assets, which in this case was £3.06 million, so well within our limit of £5 million. As all other jurisdictional criteria were satisfied, we were able to consider Limited Company A’s complaint.
- The headcount includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal staff.
- It includes employees, owner-managers, partners and directors engaged in a regular activity in the business, but excludes apprentices and employees on maternal or parental leave.
- The headcount is measured in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) people. So anyone who worked full-time during the entire year counts as one FTE. Part-time staff, seasonal workers or those who did not work the full year are converted to FTE based on the number of hours they worked.
- For example, C Ltd has three full-time employees contracted to 40 hours a week. They also have six part-time employees each doing 10 hours a week. The six part-time employee hours added together make up another 1.5 FTE (6x10 hours = 60 hours = 1.5 FTE). So the business employs 4.5 people for the purposes of the headcount calculation.
What happens if my business goes temporarily over the threshold?
There is a 'two-year' rule that recognises some businesses might exceed the thresholds temporarily during an exceptional year and/or in volatile markets.
If a business exceeds a threshold during the year in question, we will consider the size of the business over the two preceding years as well. Looking at all three years, we will only consider the business too big if it has exceeded the threshold for two consecutive years.
Please note, this rule does not apply where a business exceeds the threshold due to a merger or acquisition as this is not typically temporary.
Limited Company B complained to us in April 2020 that its bank unfairly closed its account without notice. The bank told us that Limited Company B was too big to complain to us as its annual turnover according to its last audited account as at 31 March 2020 was £7.5 million and this was outside our threshold of £6.5 million.
However, Limited Company B’s financials over the last two preceding years had been as follows:
Staff headcount (FTE)
Balance sheet total
On further investigation, we found that 2019-20 had been an exceptionally good year for Limited Company B due to a large one-off government order, which had caused both its staff and turnover to grow. In the preceding two years, both its number of staff and turnover were much lower and below our threshold.
As per the two-year rule, we only consider a business too big if it has exceeded the threshold for two consecutive years but that was not the case here. Therefore, we said that Limited Company B was able to bring its complaint to us.
What if my business has a connection with another business?
To work out the relevant size of your business, we will also look to see if you are an 'autonomous enterprise' or if you are connected to other businesses, whether as 'linked enterprises' or 'partner enterprises'.
An autonomous enterprise is a business that is separate from the influence or control of any other business. It does not have a holding of 25% or more in any other enterprise; and no enterprise, public body or group of enterprises has a holding of 25% or more in it; and it is not linked to another enterprise through an individual.
Two businesses are linked when they have any of the following relationships:
- one business holds a majority, or is able to exercise sole control over a majority, of the shareholders' or members' voting rights in another; or
- one business is entitled to appoint or remove a majority of the administrative, management or supervisory body of another; or
- a contract between the businesses enables one to exercise a dominant influence over the other.
A typical example of linked enterprises is a parent business and a wholly-owned subsidiary. Wholly-owned 'sister' subsidiaries are also linked in a continuous chain through the parent business.
Businesses can also be linked if the same person or people own or control both enterprises. If the two enterprises offer goods or services in the same or an adjacent market, we would treat them as linked. If the two enterprises are offering goods or services in different markets, we would treat them as separate businesses.
Two businesses are partner enterprises when one business holds between 25% and 50% of the shareholding or voting rights in another business.
Implications for determining size
If your business is connected to other businesses, the size of your linked or partner enterprises will need to be considered in determining the relevant size of your business for the purposes of determining whether you can bring your complaint to us.
The size of any linked businesses, and any further businesses linked in continuous chain, will be added to the size of your business.
Limited Company C is a pharmaceutical company, which brought to us its complaint about an insurance claim its insurer had refused to pay. At the time it complained to the insurance company, Limited Company C had an annual turnover of £5 million, 25 full-time employees and total assets of £1.5 million.
So, on the face of it, it was a small business under our rules and therefore eligible to complain to us.
However, on further investigation we found that Limited Company C had a 70% shareholding in another company, Limited Company D.
Because Limited Company C had a majority shareholding in Limited Company D, to arrive at the size criteria for our jurisdictional purposes, we had to add the figures of Limited Company D also. Thus:
Limited Company C
Limited Company D
As the combined turnover was over £6.5 million, Limited Company C was now over the threshold and we were unable to consider its complaint.
Please note this also works the other way. So, for example, if another company had a majority shareholding in Limited Company C, then to arrive at the size criteria, we would need to add the staff headcount and financial data of that company also.
A proportion of the size of any partner businesses will be added to the size of your business.
Limited Company E sells soft drinks, including fizzy drinks and fruit juices. It had recently taken out public liability insurance but was concerned that its policy had been mis-sold by its broker. It asked us to review its complaint.
Limited Company E had turnover of £2 million and a balance sheet of £1.8 million. It employed 20 people full time.
Limited Company E is in partnership with Limited Company F and has a 40% stake in Limited Company F. Limited Company F employs 40 people full time. It has a turnover of £4 million and a balance sheet of £10 million.
So, to calculate the headcount and financial data to assess whether we had jurisdiction to consider the complaint, we needed to add the relevant percentage of data for Limited Company F to that of Limited Company E. So that means:
100% of Limited Company E
40% of Limited Company F
The combined relevant turnover was £3.6m, which was below the threshold of £6.5m. So that condition was satisfied.
We then needed to check whether at least one of either the staff headcount or the balance sheet total were below our threshold. The data showed that though the total assets were above £5m, the headcount was below 50, so the headcount threshold was also satisfied.
This meant Limited Company E was eligible to bring its complaint to us.
These calculations are not always straightforward, so please contact us if in any doubt.
I'm a charity, what are the rules for me?
You can bring your complaint to us if your annual income was less than £6.5 million at the time you complained to the financial business.
If your complaint relates to an act or omission by a financial business which occurred before 1 April 2019, your annual income must have been less than £1 million.
Charity G complained about the time it took its bank to change its mandate. At that time, it had 80 staff, £6 million total assets and an annual income of £5 million.
The charity was able to bring its complaint to us. This is because its annual income was below our threshold of £6.5 million.
Unlike the size criteria for SMEs, the total assets and the staff headcount is irrelevant to consider the eligibility of a charity.
I'm a trust, what are the rules for me?
You can bring your complaint to us if the Trust’s net asset value was less than £5 million at the time you complained to the financial business.
If your complaint relates to an act or omission by a financial business which occurred before 1 April 2019, the Trust’s net asset value must have been less than £1 million.
The trustees of Trust H complained to us about an administrative error by the trust’s bank in September 2018.
The trustees complained to the bank about this matter in July 2019 before bringing the complaint to us. At the time they complained to the bank, the trust’s total assets were £6 million, its net assets were £4 million and its annual income was £600,000.
Our jurisdictional threshold for trusts relates to net asset value – not gross assets (as in the case of small businesses) or annual income.
The net assets of Trust H at the time it complained to the bank were £4 million.
However, the trustees’ complaint was about something that happened before 1 April 2019. This is important as the threshold for our jurisdiction to consider complaints from trusts is different for events after 1 April 2019 from events before. Although our size threshold for trusts is now £6.5 million, this relates to complaints about events after 1 April 2019. For complaints about events prior to 1 April 2019, the threshold is £1 million.
Therefore, Trust H was too large at the time the events took place and we could not consider its complaint.
Determining when the event being complained about actually occurred isn’t always straightforward. So if in doubt please contact us.
I'm a guarantor for my business loan
You may be able to bring your complaint to us if your business is a micro-enterprise or small business.
However, for a guarantee or security you gave personally for your business (ie not one business guaranteeing the loan of another business), you can only bring your complaint to us if it was given on or after 1 April 2019.
If you have given a guarantee for a loan which relates to another individual or someone else’s business, please see our information about guarantor loans.
Helen was one of the directors of Limited Company I. In June 2019, the company needed to borrow some money from the bank and Helen signed a guarantee as security for the company’s loan. Within six months, the company ran into financial difficulties and couldn’t repay the loan. The bank demanded that Helen repay it under her guarantee. She complained that the bank hadn’t acted fairly.
The guarantee agreement in this case was entered on 10 June 2019, which was after the rules changed on 1 April 2019 to include guarantees given in relation loans to a business by a director or shareholder of that business.
So we were able to consider Helen’s complaint.
I'm a public body – can you help me?
A public body exercising its duties to deliver a public service isn’t a micro-enterprise or small business. It also wouldn’t usually be a charity.
However, there are occasions where we may be able to consider your complaint (subject to the relevant size limits), for example where you are a separate business set up by a public body to engage in regular economic activity, or where your complaint derives from your actions as a charitable trustee.
Parish Council J complained to us that its insurer unfairly rejected its claim in relation to its employment insurance cover.
We concluded that, as a public body exercising its duties to deliver a public service, the council wasn’t a micro-enterprise or small business. And there were no other categories of eligible complainant under our current rules that could apply to it. So, we were unable to consider its complaint.
This does not mean that a parish council could never fulfil the relevant criteria, in particular where it is engaged in economic activity. We consider jurisdiction in each case based on the individual facts and circumstances. So, if in doubt, please contact us.
Can you help clubs, societies and other associations?
You can only bring your complaint to us if you meet one of the criteria set out in our rules – i.e. as an eligible micro-enterprise, small business, charity or trust.
However, many clubs, societies and associations may satisfy these criteria. Please contact us to see if we can consider your complaint. To make our assessment, we may ask for some detailed information – including, where available, a copy of your governing documents.
Golf Club K made two bank transfers to a scammer who it mistakenly believed to be its supplier. It was unhappy that its bank refused to refund the money.
The bank said that the club didn’t fall into any of the categories of eligible complainant under our rules (this is explained in full in the FCA handbook at DISP 2.7.3R), so we could not consider its complaint.
Clubs and societies usually take the form of unincorporated associations. However, to bring a complaint to us they need to meet one of the criteria set out in DISP 2.7.3R.
An unincorporated association won’t be a consumer as, by definition, it won’t be an individual. And whether it meets any of the other criteria will depend on its purpose and constitution. In order to consider this, we may need to look at a copy of its governing documents.
In the case of Golf Club K we reviewed the club’s governing documents and we looked closely at what the club did. The club offered membership to the general public on payment of an annual fee. The membership came with a set of benefits. In addition, the club offered merchandise to its members and the general public for sale. It also let its premises for business meetings and weddings.
We concluded that the club was clearly carrying out economic activities and as such was eligible to bring its complaint to us as a micro-enterprise or small business, depending on its size. In this instance it was small enough to be considered as a micro-enterprise.