The Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO) is the final stage in the complaints process established by the English professional Football Authorities (the Football Association [FA], the Premier League [PL] and The English Football League [EFL]). The IFO comprises an Ombudsman, his Deputy and an Advisory Panel. This document explains the role of the IFO. This document is reproduced on the IFO website www.theifo.co.uk. In February 2016 the IFO was formally recognised as an approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Body, under the 2015 Alternative Dispute Consumer Regulations.
1. Procedures in general
The IFO believes that the following principles should inform complaints procedures in general:-
• It should be clear how complainants can register complaints and who will deal with them.
• Complaints should be dealt with quickly and effectively. Where a complaint is upheld an apology should be issued and consideration should be given as to whether any other form of redress is appropriate.
• Those dealing with complaints should be well trained and motivated with a clear understanding that effective complaints resolution improves relationships with customers.
• The system should make clear what options are open to the complainant if he or she remains dissatisfied with the response to their complaint.
2. The IFO within Football’s complaints process
The IFO is the final stage on complaints involving customer issues. An individual, a group of individuals or an organisation who feel aggrieved about the goods or services received from a football provider should, in the first instance, take that complaint to the provider. That will usually be the football club which provided the goods or services, but it could be one of the Football Authorities if they were responsible for the service (for example, the FA in the case of England matches). You should always give the provider the opportunity to resolve your complaint before approaching the IFO.
Each club and each Authority has a customer charter or similar document which should explain how a complaint can be registered and how it will be dealt with. If your complaint is not satisfactorily dealt with by the provider and you have reached “deadlock” so that there is no prospect of a resolution, the provider will advise you that you have the right to refer your complaint to the IFO for investigation and adjudication.
If after 6 weeks from the time you submitted your complaint, the provider has not properly responded, YOU have the right to refer your complaint to the IFO, unless the provider has given a reasonable explanation for the delay (eg complexity of the case or unavailability of relevant personnel).
Where the IFO receives a complaint prematurely, ie where it has not gone to the provider or not enough time has elapsed from the submission of the complaint, the IFO will refer such complaints to the provider for consideration.
In common with many other Ombudsman or ADR schemes, the IFO cannot consider any matter which is the subject of legal or appellate action.
3. How to complain to the IFO: Step by Step Guidance
• Complaints should be made in writing and may be submitted by post to:
The Independent Football Ombudsman
Suite 33, Great George Street,
LEEDS LS1 3AJ.
or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or via the website: www.theifo.co.uk
You may initially register your concerns by phone and may wish to leave a message on the IFO Voicemail 0800 588 4066
• You should submit a summary of your complaint, to include details of your concerns and your desired outcome. This should be supported by any documentary evidence available, including correspondence to and from the provider. This may be submitted either in hard copy or electronically. You may communicate with the IFO and the provider online if you wish. You will be given sufficient time to submit full documentation in order for the IFO to consider a complete case file.
• You do not need to be legally represented to submit a complaint to the IFO, but you may take independent advice if you wish. A submission to the IFO does not remove your right to take legal action subsequently. A referral to the IFO involves no cost to the complainant, irrespective of the outcome.
• The IFO will acknowledge receipt of your complaint and notify you promptly if it is unable to consider your complaint. The IFO cannot consider a complaint which is outside its remit (eg player behaviour or referee performance). The only other grounds for a refusal to investigate are
o The complaint has not been previously submitted to the provider
o The complaint is frivolous or vexatious
o The complaint is subject to current legal action (the IFO operates as an alternative to the legal process)
If IFO decides that the complaint is appropriate for further investigation, the IFO and the Deputy IFO, or one of them in conjunction with a member of the IFO’s Advisory Panel, will consider the matter. The IFO will adopt procedures as seem appropriate to the complaint. The IFO will seek information from the football bodies concerned and may ask the complainant for oral evidence where that is deemed appropriate. If that evidence is sought by interview, the complainant may ask a friend or representative to attend. (The IFO will reimburse reasonable travel expenses). The IFO may visit a club or other service provider to investigate the matter, where this is judged necessary for the IFO to complete the adjudication. The IFO will normally complete its investigation and respond to the complainant within 60 days.
4. The outcome
After considering all the evidence the IFO will respond in one of three ways, depending on the content and merits of the case. It will do so by email or post as appropriate.
• To inform the complainant that no further action is to be taken, either because the case has no merit or the provider has already responded reasonably.
• To send an extended letter summarising the complaint and the IFO investigation, together with any recommended action
• To publish a full adjudication where the nature of the complaint is complex and it merits a public airing of the concerns and issues raised. The Adjudication will be sent to the complainant and to the appropriate Football Authority or club. Adjudication Reports are published in full on the IFO website (www.theifo.co.uk). A summary of the adjudication will be included in the IFO’s Annual Report and on the website of the relevant Authority.
If the complaint is wholly or partially upheld, the IFO will make any recommendations deemed appropriate. IFO recommendations are non-binding, but the Football Authorities have stated that they and their member clubs would normally expect to implement IFO findings. If the Football Authority or club considers that it cannot – for whatever reason – implement any recommendation of the IFO, it will publish the reasoning behind such a decision and any proposed alternative resolution to the complaint.
Within football’s complaints process there is no right of appeal against IFO adjudications. The IFO is the final stage of the complaints process.
5. Key points to note.
If you submit a complaint to the IFO, you should note the following:
• Either party has the right to request sight of the evidence provided by the other side subject to reasonable safeguards. The IFO will not disclose information which is commercially sensitive, which relates to anti-fraud measures or which is personally confidential and to disclose would be against the provisions of the Data Protection Act
• You may withdraw from the process at any time if you are unhappy with the way your complaint is being handled.
• You may request that the final report is not published.
• Both parties are free to accept or reject the findings and will be given reasonable time to decide whether to do so
• If you choose to reject the IFO findings this will not preclude you taking legal action to seek redress, noting that the IFO is not a legal tribunal and its findings may be different from those of a court.
• The IFO will handle any personal information sensitively and within its published INFORMATION HANDLING POLICY.
• The IFO will treat all complaints fairly and impartially and its officers will declare any relevant financial or emotional interest. Investigations are conducted in line with the IFO’s published CONFLICT OF INTERESTS POLICY.
If you wish to seek advice on your complaint and how to progress it, please contact the IFO by letter, phone, e-mail or through the website, as below.
The Indepenent Football Ombsudsman
Suite 49, 33 Great George Street,
Leeds LS1 3AJ.
Telephone (voicemail): 0800 588 4066