FOS demands faster response times from firms

The Financial Ombudsman Service will expect firms to provide it with information “straight away” rather than the standard 14 day timescale, as it seeks to resolve complaints more quickly.

In its latest newsletter, published today, the FOS says it is developing new ways of working which allow it to resolve complaints in around three weeks.

By contrast, in the year to March 2015, the FOS resolved 53 per cent of complaints (excluding payment protection insurance complaints) within three months, and 78 per cent within six months.

Principal ombudsman Garry Wilkinson says: “Over the past few months, we’ve been asking businesses to share information with us more quickly. A key part of this has been moving away from rigid timescales – and instead looking at what’s reasonable given the circumstances of the problem and the nature of what we’re asking for.

“For example, ‘standard’ 14 or 21-day timescales to get information to us aren’t necessary – and aren’t easy to justify at a time when technology has raised expectations about the speed of communication.”

A FOS spokeswoman says the 14-day response time will still apply for complex cases. But she says where a business has been asked a “straight forward question”, the FOS will expect an answer “straight away”, over the phone or via email.

The FOS will also now give its decision on a complaint to the business and the customer at the same time. Previously, it would contact the party it had found against first to give them an opportunity to disagree and refer the case to an ombudsman.

Wilkinson says: “Businesses will need to ensure that they’ve got the right processes in place to support customers’ answers more quickly –and this may sometimes be challenging.

“They’ll need to make sure that their people on the front line have the confidence and the authority to move complaints forward in a fair, pragmatic way.”

The FOS says it plans to introduce text message updates, and an online portal which will allow firms and consumers to check on the status of their complaints.

Separately, the newsletter discusses the FOS’ approach to complaints about unregulated collective investment schemes.

It says: “The fact that someone may appear to be an experienced investor doesn’t automatically mean they’re eligible to have Ucis promoted to them.

“In many of the complaints we see, people tell us they weren’t made aware of the risks involved in investing in Ucis – or that they didn’t know what exactly they were investing in. Some people say that, until something went wrong, they hadn’t even heard of ‘Ucis’.”

The FOS says that when considering Ucis complaints, it looks at whether the business carried out the checks required at the time of the advice, and at key sales documents from the time.