The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill (the “Bill”) proposes to dissolve the two separate offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman (the “FSO”) and the Pensions Ombudsman. All the functions of these offices will transfer to the new office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (the “ FSPO”). The main objective of the Bill is to update and consolidate existing legislation relating to the current roles and functions of the FSO and the Pensions Ombudsman.

Establishment of the FSPO Council

The Bill provides for the setup and structure of the FSPO Council (the “Council”) and the dissolution of the existing Financial Services Ombudsman Council. The Bill also sets out in detail the functions and powers of the Council. This will include the power to make regulations to set and govern the collection of levies from the financial services industry in respect of complaints related to financial services and penalties for non-payment.

New complaints procedure

If enacted, the Bill will change the timeframes within which certain complaints can be made. The proposed new time limit has two parts which relate to long-term financial services and short-term financial services.

The definition of a long-term financial service is a financial service where the actual or intended duration of the service is five years and one month, or more, and is not subject to unilateral cancellation or annual review.

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

  1. six years from the date of the conduct giving rise to the complaint
  2. three years from the earlier of the date on which the person making the complaint first became aware, or ought reasonably to have become aware, of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint, or
  3. within a longer period as the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman may allow, provided it is determined that there are reasonable grounds for a longer period. It also must be determined that it would be just and equitable to allow for a longer period

To benefit from the new timeframes in respect of a long-term financial service, the complaint must relate to conduct occurring during or after 2002. The financial service provided giving rise to the complaint must also not have expired more than six years before the complaint is made.

For other short-term financial services, the limitation period of six years is unchanged. A complaint will need to be made within six years of the date of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint.

Other notable provisions

The FSPO can:

  1. continue a case following the death of a complainant
  2. issue preliminary determinations to indicate the potential final decision, and
  3. inform the relevant authorities in instances where there is a persistent pattern of complaints or facts

Given that the Minister for Finance has requested that the Bill be a priority on the Government's legislative agenda in 2017, it is likely that it will be enacted sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

The merging of the two offices as proposed in the Bill has been planned for some time and will formally provide a “one-stop shop” for complaints in relation to financial service providers and pension providers.