The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) positions itself as an independent adjudicator, stepping in to make an unbiased decision when a dispute occurs between a bank, or another financial institution, and one of its customers. Its services are free to use and it claims to be an open and transparent organisation, with a prominent (mission) statement on its website reading; ‘Financial dispute resolution that’s fair and impartial’.
Every year, approximately a million people complain to the FOS about financial institutions that have unfortunately disappointed and frustrated their customers in many different ways! The following is taken from the FOS website, published on 11th September 2019, regarding their previous 6-month review:
“Today we’ve published data showing how many complaints we received about individual businesses between January to June 2019. The data shows that we received 161,390 total complaints – an average of over 6,000 a week. PPI remains the most complained about product, with over 70,000 new complaints received in the first half of 2019. On average, we upheld 29% of complaints in the consumers’ favour – and, excluding PPI, the average uphold rate is 39%”.
In Spring 2018, Channel 4 aired its ‘Dispatches’ program, which highlighted serious flaws within the organisation, including:
- that certain staff members had financial backgrounds, but according to instructors, others were ‘ill equipped’to deal with complex cases, even admitting that some staff members had been ‘thrown in’ with no training at all.
- a lack of empathy shown towards customers, with ‘insiders’ confirming that backlogs, pressure and unachievable targets were leading to the service siding with the banks, as generally, this made their lives easier.
- that certain staff members had to ‘Google’ various financial products due their lack of knowledge.
- an admission that legitimate claims were being missed, and a huge backlog had developed, even where customers were about to lose their homes!
- accusations being made at the public for ‘latching on’ to published decisions.
- that no account was being made for the facts, nor how the product was sold.
When visited by Treasury Select Committee member, Rushanara Ali, staff at the FOS revealed how pre-selected, rehearsed cases were used as an ‘executive attempt’ to make the service look more professional and hide the fact that staff members didn’t know what they were doing.
Former Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Baroness Ross Altmann described the findings as ‘truly shocking’, ‘utterly unacceptable’ and ‘deeply worrying’. She also described distress and inconvenience payments made to customers as ‘woefully low’.
Towards the end of the program a customer summarises her overall experience by saying…”If you’re an ordinary person and you try to take on a big powerful institution like a bank, it’s like kicking a battleship, you just don’t make any impression on them at all, and they just sail on regardless. I thought that the FOS was there to represent the individual, the ordinary person, to challenge the bank”.
Money & Me felt it was significant that staff members didn’t feel comfortable exposing their identity, instead, opting to remain anonymous, portraying their experience through actors. The implication being that there may be a culture of fear within the organisation, one that is not conducive to adopting a fair and impartial service!
You can read Channel 4’s own summary of the program here:
The Banks may have lost many people’s trust a long time ago, the question now, following the issues brought out in the open by this Dispatches program is, can you trust the Financial Ombudsmen Service to deal with your complaint fairly and in a timely, unbiased and sympathetic manner?
Unfortunately, over two years on from this disparaging report, we are disappointed to confirm that in our experience it’s ‘business as usual’ at the FOS. In terms of timescales, clients are often waiting over two years for their claim to be finalised… sometimes much longer! However, despite the service’s obvious inadequacies, we are pleased to report that our ‘uphold’ (success) rates have been consistently high; in July 2020, we calculated an average success rate of 83.78% over the previous six years.
Lastly, the employee forum website, ‘Glass Door’, provides the reader with a useful insight into how employees feel about their employer and their jobs. One recent post by a disgruntled employee reads, “Advice to Management; Ever since the restructuring in 2016 the question of “What’s the right thing to do here?” has too often been replaced with “How quickly can I close this case regardless of what happens?”
This sentence (and other comments like it) should raise grave concerns to anyone considering using the facility and whose future financial security may depend on the quality of service they receive. This is especially the case when it is unclear how staff are incentivised, what the key performance indicators are (and who decides these) and how well the FOS itself is regulated.
It’s not all bad, however; there are several, much more positive reviews than this one (click here to view) and we would encourage you to decide for yourself whether the Financial Ombudsmen Service is ‘fair and impartial’, as well as being free to use. We believe it is crucial that you are able to make an informed and balanced decision as to whether ‘going it alone’, or appointing professional assistance is the best way forward for you and your financial claim.
Claims management companies like Money & Me are working hard to represent the individual and ensure they get the financial justice they deserve. If you would like any more information about how Money & Me can help, please contact us.