On 26 February 2014, the Office of the Financial Services Ombudsman (the “FSO”) published its latest bi-annual review for the period July to December 2013 on complaints raised by consumers about their individual dealings with financial services providers.  For the first time, the FSO exercised its newly acquired powers to “name and shame” individual financial service providers against which more than three adverse findings had been made.  This review also contains analysis on complaints for 2013, which signposts potential trends for 2014.

Naming of financial service providers

The statutory provision granting the FSO this power came into effect on 1 September 2013.  Accordingly, the FSO has now for the first time reported on the complaint record of individual financial service providers against which more than three adverse complaints were fully or partly upheld during the period 1 September to 31 December 2013.   A total of 15 financial service providers were named in the FSO’s report.  The FSO categorises complaints as either investment, banking or insurance.  14 of the 15 providers named had complaints upheld in the insurance sector.  A further seven had complaints upheld against them in the banking sector and three had complaints upheld in the investment sector.   The FSO has welcomed the fact that, since the introduction of this reporting power, its experience has been that financial service providers have sought to more actively manage their complaints handling.

New complaints procedure

On 1 September 2013, the FSO introduced a procedure of accepting a complaint only where there is evidence that the complainant has already communicated the substance of the complaint to the financial service provider and the provider has been given a reasonable opportunity to respond.  The purpose of this new procedure was to encourage active engagement between a consumer and the financial service provider at an early stage.  This was particularly required given the ever increasing number of complaints to the FSO.

Trends

For the first time since 2007, the number of complaints received by the FSO has reduced.  3,042 complaints were made to the FSO in the second half of 2013, which is a 35% decrease on the first half of the year.  This is reported by the FSO to be a consequence of the new changes introduced on 1 September 2013.  Despite this reduction, the percentage of those complaints going to formal investigation has increased by 8% compared with 2012.   In 2013, the FSO issued 2,983 findings in total and the total compensation awarded, including where rectification was directed, was €931,668. Interestingly, complaints were fully upheld in only 7% of cases and partly upheld in 16% of cases.

The FSO pointed to two key areas in its review, payment protection insurance and mortgage arrears issues, as having received the largest number of complaints and having the largest number of complaints either fully or partly upheld during the second half of 2013.  A similar trend was seen in the FSO’s 2012 review and it remains to be seen whether this trend continues.

Conclusion

While complaints for the second half of the year reduced by 35% compared with the first half of 2013, the total volume of complaints for 2013 overall were only 5% lower than the volume of complaints received by the FSO in 2012.  The Regulatory and Investigations Group at Matheson has extensive experience of advising clients against which complaints have been submitted to the FSO, particularly complex complaints.  We can advise on the applicable procedures, including information requests, mediation and oral hearings, as well as the strategies to be adopted to resolve the complaints as efficiently as possible, and any subsequent appeals to the High Court.