Complaints Commissioner rebukes FSA for withholding information

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The Complaints Commissioner has stressed the need for “total transparency” from the regulator after it emerged the FSA withheld information relating to a complaint against it.

Complaints Commissioner Sir Anthony Holland has published his annual report for 2012/13, to coincide with the final FSA annual report published earlier this week.

Holland investigated complaints against the FSA if the complaint remained unresolved after an initial investigation by the regulator. This regime will continue under the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

In his annual report, Holland refers to a complaint last year relating the conduct of FSA staff during an informal meeting with an unnamed firm.

During the Commissioner’s investigation, Holland found correspondence had been withheld from both the FSA’s complaints team and from him, with information only coming to light after he had issued a preliminary decision.

Holland says he has told the FSA several times that in order for the complaints against the regulator scheme to work there needs to be access to all documentation.

He notes it should be down to the FSA’s complaints team and the Complaints Commissioner to decide what material is relevant to a complaint, not the FSA department concerned.

Holland says: “Failing to provide full disclosure to the complaints team and the Commissioner immediately suggests those who are the subject of a complaint, whether individuals or an area within the FSA, have acted inappropriately and are trying to ‘hide’ their actions.

“Such action is an unattractive position for the regulator or any body undertaking a public function to accept.”

He added the success of the complaints regime needed to ensure “total transparency” whether investigations into complaints are internal or carried out by the Commissioner.

The Financial Conduct Authority says: “We agree that total transparency is necessary to ensure the objectives of the scheme are met.”

The FSA was forced to issue an apology in March after the Complaints Commissioner ruled the regulator was “unprofessional and lacked integrity”. The complaint related to a heated meeting between a regulated firm and the FSA in which the company’s lawyer was told to leave the room.