Issue 130 of the Financial Ombudsman News (November – December 2015) has been published.  In this issue, the focus is on older people and retirement, and in Ombudsman Focus the organisation shares some of the feedback it has received over the last few months about what businesses need and want from this public service.

The overarching message is how ascertaining a customer’s individual circumstances helps to ensure the correct decision is made, rather than relying on assumptions and generalisations. Retirement is used as an example of a period where key decisions about money are made – how to cover the costs in the years ahead, from home improvements, to holidays, to care-homes – but cannot be taken by institutions on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This period has a unique set of financial questions and concerns, and the Financial Ombudsman will assess consumer complaints for evidence of age-discrimination, checking whether a business has acted fairly in considering a customer’s individual circumstances.

The feedback the Financial Ombudsman received from entities, from trade bodies to consumer groups, who use and fund the service highlighted:

  • the need for further Ombudsman understanding of financial products and services
  • the discontent within the sector over the use of commercial claims-management companies
  • that businesses would like the right to challenge customer complaints face-to-face

In their responses, the Ombudsman clarified that while they do invest a significant amount of time and resources in training, so that their staff are familiar with the financial products in question, part of this training is to appreciate the broader picture rather than conducting a simple product-based analysis. The Ombudsman also stressed that they work closely with claims managers to attempt to stop the unfocused, generic arguments from claims managers where possible. They also reiterate that in Ombudsman complaints, businesses will not be able to challenge customers face-to-face, partly due to the expense, and partly because the nature of the service is to be an informal alternative to court, with no cross-examination, pleadings or need for legal representation.