Our small business team

On this page, you’ll find information about our Small Business Team, the cases they see and how they help small businesses resolve their complaints about financial services providers.

Over the last few years, global events have dramatically affected the financial landscape for small businesses and influenced the complaints they’ve brought to us. Having a dedicated team enables us act more quickly to address trends that particularly affect small businesses. 

Andy Wright, Ombudsman

In 2019, the Financial Ombudsman Service was given powers to settle complaints from small businesses. We now offer a service that’s available to over 99% of UK small businesses. 

The team’s made up of 43 investigators and ten ombudsmen – all with expertise in the small business sector and the financial products and services they use.  

Investigators look into complaints and provide initial assessments. Most complaints are resolved at this stage, but if not, the case will go to an ombudsman who’ll make a final decision.

The team is led by Andy Wright, who joined us after a long career as a senior civil servant. A chartered accountant by trade, he has a lot of experience working with businesses and has served as a trustee for several charities. Andy has written about how the team helps small businesses.

Who we can help

There are rules setting out who we can help, according to the size of the business and where the complaint has got to. Our Ombudsman, Colin Brown has written about which small businesses and charities can use our service.

To find out if we can help you, just answer a few questions about your business in our Eligibility Checker. 

We can help small businesses operating in any industry, from shops and farms to plumbers and street vendors – whether a sole trader, a limited company or a partnership. And we can help charities and trusts.

Colin Brown, Ombudsman

Examples of how we can help

  • Sarann Taylor led the team’s work considering complaints brought about business interruption insurance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    What we’ve seen

    Complaints about business interruption insurance (BII) are not new, as losses can arise from fires, flooding, theft, etc. But the Covid-19 pandemic brought new challenges, both to businesses and insurers.

    "Most BII policies weren’t written with the pandemic in mind and didn’t provide cover for the circumstances of most businesses’ losses," says Sarann. 

    "However, the interpretation of these policies and their application to the pandemic wasn’t always clear. So, a lot of customers complained when their claim was declined."

    Unhappy small business customers brought complaints about more than 40 insurers to our service – many involving large sums of money which were essential to the business’s survival. Since March 2020, we’ve received nearly 4,300 BII complaints related to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

    Our approach

    Different insurers used different policy wordings. We had to determine the parameters for each to understand how it provided cover in the context of the pandemic. We then had to apply the policy to the unique circumstances of each business bringing a complaint.

    To do this efficiently, we grouped cases together by policy wording and started with cases where the position was clearest. As we progressed our thinking on different policy types, we shared our approach with both insurers and potential complainants. 

    Meanwhile, we followed court cases closely to ensure our decisions were made with due regard to the developing legal position. 

    As a result, businesses across the country received hundreds of thousands of pounds. Working proactively on this issue with insurers and claims management companies has helped them:

    • learn from our decisions 
    • adapt their approach and develop good practice, and
    • proactively resolve complaints early, before they’re brought to us.

    As we reflect on our BII project, we're proud of what we achieved and better prepared to deal with a similar situation in the future.

    About Sarann

    Sarann was appointed as an Ombudsman in 2015 and has issued decisions on more than 1,000 cases. Before joining the Financial Ombudsman Service, she worked for Staffordshire County Council where she was Principal Advisor for Special Educational Needs & Disability Tribunals, and previously, Head of Special Educational Needs & Disability Assessment Service.

  • Ben Jennings led the project team investigating complaints about the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), which the government introduced to help businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    What we’ve seen

    During the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of businesses borrowed money to help keep them afloat. The Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) accounted for over 93% of loans made during Covid-19. Since it closed, we've had complaints from small businesses about how lenders are treating them.

    Unfortunately for many small businesses, repayments became due during the cost-of-living crisis, and some borrowers are struggling to pay back loans. 

    “The decision by a lender to call in a loan can have significant consequences for the borrower,” says Ben. “Once the borrower has defaulted, the outstanding debt must be repaid immediately and in full. The borrower's credit file can also be affected.”

    Some of the complaints we saw were from borrowers who weren’t in arrears on their bounce back loan but had had it ‘cross-defaulted'. This is when the loan is terminated because the borrower has fallen behind on another loan or overdraft facility they hold with the same lender. 

    A common clause in commercial lending agreements allows lenders to demand full repayment of all the money owed, even if only one account is in default. This is to protect the lender against the risk of a borrower being unable to meet all their commitments. 

    Our approach

    We found most lenders aren’t cross-defaulting bounce back loans unreasonably, except for in a few cases. One borrower, for example, was just £50 over their agreed overdraft limit, and that was because of interest charged by the lender. 

    Despite the borrower telling the lender about their ill health and engaging positively about a repayment plan, the lender defaulted the overdraft and their bounce back loan. We didn’t think this was fair, so we told the lender to reverse the defaults and reinstate both accounts.

    Since 2020, we’ve resolved around 4,000 complaints related to bounce back loans – upholding about a third.

    We’re still receiving new complaints. Some are about things that have gone wrong with the administration of the loan. Others are from borrowers who feel their lender didn’t offer enough support when they began to struggle with repayments.

    About Ben 

    Ben is a highly experienced Ombudsman, with over ten years’ experience resolving complaints in the banking sector. For three years, he led the dedicated project team investigating complaints about the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

  • Raj Varadarajan leads the team who investigate complaints from small businesses about how a financial firm has dealt with complaints involving fraud and scams. 

    What we’ve seen

    Most of the fraud and scams complaints we receive from small businesses are about 'authorised push payment' (APP) scams. This is where a business intends to send money to a genuine person or organisation, or for a genuine purpose, but is tricked into sending money to a scammer. Most of the complaints that come to us are about intercepted invoice scams.

    In the first half of 2023, UK businesses lost £42.6m to APP fraud, with invoice and mandate scam losses totalling £24.8m.

    “Intercepted invoice scams are typically when someone intercepts an email exchange between a supplier and a business, and sends the business a fake invoice with amended bank details,” explains Raj.

    We also get ‘impersonation’ scams, where a member of staff authorised to make payments gets a fake email from the scammer – that looks like it comes from a director or CEO – asking them to make payments. And we see complaints where businesses have been tricked into paying for something that doesn’t exist.

    Our approach

    When a complaint is referred to us, first we check whether we can consider it under our rules. If we can, we'll then investigate the merits of the complaint. 

    To help us consider a complaint fairly, we’ll ask you and the financial firm about what happened. We’ll ask questions about the circumstances and the transactions that are in dispute. And we'll ask the financial firm for documents and other information that they have.

    Sometimes we see that the financial firm involved isn’t clear about whether a small business can bring a case to our service.

    “We’ve found some financial firms advising small businesses that we can’t consider their complaint because they are not eligible under the Contingent Reimbursement Model (CRM) Code," says Raj. "This is not correct.”

    The CRM Code is a voluntary scheme, which some firms have signed up to in response to the rise in APP fraud. However, it doesn’t apply to every type of bank transfer and among SMEs, it only covers micro-enterprises.

    “That's not to say that other businesses aren’t eligible to complain to us. We can consider complaints from small businesses as well as micro-enterprises.”

    The CRM Code wouldn’t apply unless your business is a micro-enterprise. But even so, we’ll still look at whether your bank could reasonably have done more to help prevent the scam. And we'll check whether the financial firm which the payment went to could have identified the scam and prevented the loss to your business.

    Where we find that the firm has done something wrong, we’ll ask it to put things right. What that is will depend on the nature and type of complaint. It might include, for example, asking the firm to reimburse the loss together with interest.

    “Scams are getting more and more sophisticated," says Raj, adding that any business, large or small, can be caught out.

    "It's important to know what to look out for, especially in relation to common scams like invoice intercept and impersonation scams. And it's a good idea to put some steps in place to prevent your business being scammed.”

    About Raj

    Raj joined the Financial Ombudsman Service as an adjudicator after spending his early career in the life insurance industry. He has been an Ombudsman since 2010 and has experience in resolving complaints across our casework areas. He joined our Small Business Team when it started in 2019.

  • Advisory group and expert panel

    Our SME Advisory Group meets twice a year to keep us up to date with issues affecting small businesses, including concerns relating to financial services. Our Expert Panel gives us specialist advice on some of the financial products and arrangements that small businesses use.

    Advisory group and expert panel

  • Complaints we can help with

    About 99% of UK small businesses are eligible to use our service, and we can consider complaints about most kinds of financial products and services provided in or from the UK. This page sets out in more detail the types of complaints we see and can look at. 

    Complaints we can help with

  • How we make decisions

    Our service is a free, easy-to-use, informal alternative to the courts. We resolve things over the phone and in writing and don’t usually need hearings to resolve a dispute. And we’re committed to making decisions fairly and reasonably. 

    How we make decisions