Last week, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) released correspondence in which the FCA sought reassurance from the FOS in relation to how it intends to handle complaints about financial firms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter from Sheldon Mills (Interim Executive Director of Strategy & Competition at the FCA), dated 16 November 2020, the FCA asked the FOS to confirm that that it will continue to “consider complaints based on the circumstances at the time”. It also asked the FOS to affirm that it would determine what is “fair and reasonable in all the circumstances of the individual case” and to take into account “the operational challenges faced by firms during this period…the FCA’s revised expectations of what constitutes compliance…[and]…what counted as good industry practice at the time”.

The request for clarification follows the Government’s announcement of further measures intended to control the spread of COVID-19, and the FCA’s subsequent further temporary measures “designed to ensure firms can work at pace, and under difficult conditions to support their customers”.

Mr Mills noted that the FCA wants to provide reassurance to financial services firms that FOS will consider complaints based on the circumstances at the time, to ensure that firms “respond positively” to the FCA’s further measures, and that “consumers get the help they need”.

Caroline Wayman (Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the FOS) responded on behalf of the FOS, in a letter dated 17 November 2020. Ms Wayman thanked the FCA for continuing to work closely with the Ombudsman and stated that the FOS “understand that financial businesses are facing unprecedented challenges”.

Ms Wayman confirmed that the FOS continues to make decisions within the framework set out in statute, the FCA’s own rules, and what the Ombudsman considers to be good industry practice at the time. Ms Wayman stated that she is confident this “should give financial businesses the certainty that complaints will be dealt with fairly”.

Ms Wayman further confirmed that the FOS does not “make decisions with the benefit of hindsight” and that, when making decisions, it would take into account all the factors Mr Mills outlined in his letter, including the FCA’s revised expectations of what constitutes compliance with its rules.

The letter also notes that the FOS will “engage with firms directly on the issues affecting them” and firms are encouraged to contact the FOS’s Technical Advice Desk for informal assistance.

This correspondence provides reassurance for financial services firms, who will welcome the acknowledgement from both the FCA and the FOS of the challenges they face during the pandemic.