On 10 May 2017, the Minister for Finance announced the publication of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill 2017.

The Bill proposes to combine the offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO) and the Pensions Ombudsman. Combining those two offices has been under consideration since 2013. When the Bill becomes law, consumers with complaints about either financial products or the conduct of pension providers will deal with one combined entity (to be known as the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman).

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill provides a useful summary of its provisions. Notably, changes will be made to the time-frames within which certain complaints can be made.

A new category of long-term financial services will be introduced. Long term financial services will be those which:

» last for at least 5 years and 1 month; and

» are not subject to unilateral cancellation by either party during that time; and

» are not subject to annual review.

Once the Bill becomes law, for complaints in respect of long-term financial services or the conduct of a pension provider, complaints can be made:

» 6 years from the date of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint;

» 3 years from the earlier of:

• the date on which the person making the complaint first became aware of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint; and

• the date on which the person making the complaint should have become aware of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint; or

» within such longer period as the new Ombudsman may allow if he/ she feels that there are reasonable grounds for a longer period and that it would be just and equitable to allow for a longer period.

If a person making a complaint in respect of a long-term financial service wishes to benefit from the new timeframes:

» the conduct giving rise to the complaint must have occurred during or after 2002; and

» the financial service that is the subject of the complaint must not have expired or been terminated more than 6 years before the complaint is made.

It appears that the concept of long-term financial service has been introduced to cover products such as mortgages. For other financial services (i.e. financial services with a shorter term, or subject to annual review, or capable of unilateral cancellation by either party) the current 6 year time limit will be retained (i.e. the complaint will need to be made within 6 years of the date of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint).