The Report of the Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO) issued on 29 March 2018. As always, it contains interesting insights on trends and outcomes in FSO complaints.

Complaints Received

The FSO received 4,538 eligible complaints in 2017, broadly similar to the number in 2016.

The FSO closed 3867 complaints during 2017 compared to 4,323 in 2016.

At the end of 2017, the FSO had 3,134 open complaints which it transferred to the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO). The FSPO was established on 1 January 2018 under the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 (the 2017 Act).

The Report contains case studies which give an insight into the types of complaints and the adjudications of the FSO.

Mediated Complaints

With the advent of the new FSO mediation processes, and the stated objective to increase the use of mediation, it is no surprise that a very significant number of complaints in 2017 (2,370) were resolved through mediation. This represents 61% of closed complaints as compared to the 56% of closed complaints resolved through mediation in 2016.

These figures show that the new mediation process is successful and will be a key plank in the resolution of complaints in future. Upon publishing the 2017 Report the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, Ger Deering said:

"The vast majority of complaints resolved by the FSO in 2017 were resolved through mediation, which is proving to be a very fast method of resolving complaints. Of the 2,370 complaints closed in 2017 through mediation, 57% were resolved in less than three months."

The report stated that mediation, by telephone and email and through meetings, is now the first and preferred option for resolving complaints.

Complaints Upheld

Findings were issued in 171 cases (a significant reduction from the 727 findings in 2016, mainly due to the increase in mediation). Of those findings, 14 complaints (8%) were upheld, and 80 (47%) were substantially or partially upheld. In 2016 14% of complaints were upheld, and 30% were partially upheld (albeit a higher number of Findings were issued).

The Report contains a table of regulated financial service providers who, in 2017, had at least three complaints against them upheld, or substantially or partially upheld. The list comprises a mix of financial institutions and insurance companies.

The Report notes that the investigation and adjudication of complaints is taking longer than they would wish in some instances and towards the end of 2017 they have deployed additional resources to improve the speed with which matters are dealt with.

In 2017, ten findings, some relating to findings in previous years were appealed to the High Court.

Redress

The 2017 Report notes that 1,482 complainants, amounting to 38% of all complaints, got some compensation, rectification or financial redress. However, unlike the 2016 Report, the 2017 Report does not specify the total amount of compensation directed to be paid to successful complainants.

Sectoral Analysis

Of the 4538 eligible complaints received in 2017, 52% related to banking products and 42% related to insurance. The remaining 6% concerned investment products and services. These are broadly similar to the figures from 2016.

Mortgages made up the largest category of complaints in 2017, comprising 1,174 or 26% of all eligible complaints and 50% of all banking complaints received. Accounts represented 28% of banking complaints and consumer lending issues amounted to approximately 15% of banking complaints.

In a banking context 20% of eligible complaints related to maladministration, 20% customer service, 12% disputed transactions, 10% arrears handling and 5% mis-selling.

The FSO has indicated in the Report that it has put tracker mortgage complaints on hold pending the outcome of the Central Bank examination of tracker mortgages. However, it has indicated that once that examination ends, any aggrieved borrower can progress their complaint which will be considered on its individual merits. The FSO has also indicated that once the Central Bank examination is complete it will prioritise any tracker related complaints.

Motor insurance accounted for 33% of insurance complaints while health related/income protections insurance complaints amounted to 21% of insurance complaints. 10% of insurance complaints were related to consumer credit protection insurance.

In an insurance context 29% of complaints related to the rejection of a claim, 12% claim handling, 10% to the premium rate applied, 9% customer service and 8% mis-selling.

Expectations for 2018

The Report notes that the new FSPO is now dealing with complaints from 1 January 2018 onwards. It has also indicated that it has received a significant volume of queries in relation to the extension of the time limits for complaints about long term financial services which was introduced in the 2017 Act.

We should also see more speedy investigations and adjudications given the additional resources deployed in this area at the end of 2017.

We can also expect quick decisions on tracker mortgages once the Central Bank examination ends.

Read the full Report here.