Can’t get no satisfaction? It is getting easier to complain to an ombud

Laura du Preez | 12 April 2024

Laura du Preez has been writing about personal finance topics for more than 20 years, including eight years as personal finance editor for two leading media houses.

If you are unhappy about a financial product or service, it is easy to get confused about which one of a number of ombudsmen and adjudicators to approach with a complaint.

The first step to making it a little less confusing about who to approach became effective last month when the first four of seven South African financial services ombudsmen voluntarily began operating as a single ombud scheme.

The ombuds for banking, life insurance, short-term (non-life) insurance and the credit ombud have from March 1 this year been operating as the National Financial Ombud scheme (NFO). This scheme is recognised by the Ombud Council, a body set up by law to oversee financial sector ombuds.

The four former ombuds are now divisions within the new scheme and this week the banking ombud, Reana Steyn, was appointed as head ombud of the scheme.

The amalgamation of the four ombuds is the first step in a broader plan to eventually have a single ombud system for complaints about most financial services and products, according to the National Treasury.


Voluntary to approved

The four ombuds were originally set up and funded voluntarily by their respective industries to provide a cost-effective way for you to resolve complaints with banks, life insurers, short-term insurers and credit bureaus.

But financial services companies are now obliged in terms of the Financial Sector Regulation (FSR) Act to be members of a recognised industry ombud scheme if such a scheme exists, Leanne Jackson, the chief ombud (CEO) of the Ombud Council, says.

This means all registered banks, life insurers and short-term insurers have to participate in the NFO and abide by its rulings.  


Complaints about creditors

When it comes to credit providers, most of the large retailers and many other larger and medium credit providers were Credit Ombud members and are now NFO participants, but there is still more work to be done to broaden the participation of smaller credit providers, Jackson says.

Complaints about credit providers that are not registered with the NFO should be directed to the NCR, but if you are in doubt you can complain to the NFO which will ensure your complaint reaches the NCR.


More ombuds will join

The new scheme will in future include another voluntary ombud, the JSE Ombud, and one of the two ombuds currently set up by law, the Ombud for Financial Services Providers - also known as the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) Ombud.

The future system was detailed by National Treasury in a Policy Statement on A Simpler, Stronger Financial Sector Ombud System, released in March this year.   

Before the FAIS Ombud can be incorporated into the new scheme, amendments need to be made to the FSR Act.

The amendments to the FSR Act are also expected to give the NFO’s rulings the same status as rulings made by the FAIS Ombud or the Pension Funds Adjudicator (PFA). The FAIS Ombud’s and the PFA’s rulings currently have the same legal status as a civil judgment of a court.

This means that if you are awarded compensation by one of these statutory schemes, it should be paid immediately or you can get a warrant of execution drafted and send the Sheriff of the Court to attach the assets of the person or entity against whom the order has been made.

As part of the voluntary amalgamation, new rules for the four former ombuds have been drawn up and approved by the Ombud Council – see New rules for the NFO below.


Ombuds excluded

According to National Treasury it would be too difficult to include in the new system the other statutory ombud, the Pension Funds Adjudicator, at this stage.

The adjudicator’s office, which hears complaints from retirement fund members and their beneficiaries, will continue to be separate for now, but will be renamed the Retirement Funds Ombud when the Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill is passed into law, possibly later this year.  

Muvhango Lukhaimane, the Pension Funds Adjudicator, told the recent Pension Lawyers Conference held in Cape Town that her office’s relationship with the Ombud Council was on the right track. The council did a supervisory inspection of the adjudicator’s office in August last year and the adjudicator commented on the report that came out of the inspection.

Lukhaimane said that given the future plans for the adjudicator’s office, it had submitted it’s rules to the Ombud Council to comment on, despite the fact that it continues for now to operate under the Pension Funds Act.

If you are not happy with the outcome of a complaint to either the FAIS Ombud or the adjudicator’s office, you can appeal to the Financial Services Tribunal (FST). Lukhaimane says the FST offers you the ability to get a free, quick and accessible review of a decision.  


Where to complain

The latest changes mean that for now you need to channel your complaints as follows:

  • Complaints about:
    • Short-term (non-life) insurance policies;

    • Life insurance policies;

    • Bank products, including credit agreements from banks such as home loans or personal loans;

    • Credit agreements from other providers who have agreed to abide by the NFO’s jurisdiction and information recorded by credit providers on your credit report can be taken to the NFO. The list of providers over whom the NFO has jurisdiction can be found here:



Life insurance

  • Complaints about financial advice or services from a financial adviser or the way a financial product was sold to you, should be taken to the FAIS Ombud. This includes complaints about advice you received about medical schemes that result in claims being rejected or benefits or coverage being misrepresented.

  • Complaints about your retirement fund or a retirement fund from which you expect to receive benefits from a deceased member should be taken to the Pension Funds Adjudicator.

  • Complaints about medical schemes can be taken to the medical scheme regulator, the Council for Medical Schemes.

  • Complaints about credit bureaus other than those relating to information recorded on your credit report by a credit provider should be taken to the National Credit Regulator.

  • Complaints about members of the JSE (such as stockbrokers) can be raised with the JSE Market Regulation Division and may be escalated to the JSE Ombud Scheme if still not resolved.

  • Complaints about any service issue you have with the South African Revenue Service should be taken to the Tax Ombud. If you disagree with SARS on the interpretation of tax law or tax policy, you need to use SARS’s objection and appeal processes, failing which you can use the alternative dispute resolution services or approach the Tax Board or the Tax Court.

  • Complaints about tax practitioners should be taken to the organisation which registered them as a tax practitioner. Read more: Who can help me with tax advice?

You can find the ombuds’ contact details here.


The new rules that apply uniformly to all complaints that can be handled by the NFO regardless of the division to which they are directed are as follows:

  • The NFO cannot accept complaints about policies, other than life insurance ones, where the complaint relates to an amount of more than R5 million or, in the case of homeowners insurance, R10 million, unless the insurer agrees to a higher amount being considered. If the amount involved is more, you can agree to these limits being applied.

  • The NFO cannot accept banking complaints and complaints about credit agreements or information that involves more than R5 million unless the bank involved agrees to a higher amount being considered or you agree to limit your complaint to R5 million. For banking or credit related complaints, you can complain as an individual or as a small business as long as your business turnover is less than R10 million.

  • There is no limit on complaints about life insurance.

  • The NFO must first check that you have laid a complaint that has not been dealt with or not dealt with to your satisfaction by the relevant insurer, bank or credit provider.

  • The NFO can use conciliation or mediation to settle a complaint.

  • The NFO can issue a recommendation on how a complaint should be resolved.

  • The NFO can issue a ruling if its recommendation is not accepted.

  • In its rulings, the NFO can:
    • Uphold or dismiss your complaint, including ordering the payment of money to you (within the above limits) or ordering the bank, insurer or credit provider to take other appropriate action to resolve the complaint.

    • Award you up to R10 000 when a bank unnecessarily delays the proceedings of the NFO or fails to respond to a request from the NFO.

    • Award you up to R50 000 as compensation for material inconvenience or distress or for financial loss suffered as a result of an error, omission or maladministration (including manifestly unacceptable or incompetent service) by an insurer, bank or credit provider. This is regardless of any other ruling the NFO may decide to make.

    • If you are unhappy with a ruling by the NFO, there is an option to appeal.