Is it time for a thorough independent investigation into the Financial Ombudsman Service (Fos)?
From the outside it is looking increasingly like an organisation in disarray with Channel 4’s Dispatches programme being told that staff are “churning out” decisions as they rush through cases.
This situation has been brewing for some time. Staff numbers were cut from 3,609 to 2,974 in 2016.
Then bad reviews began appearing on the recruitment website Glassdoor, Indeed and the consumer site Trustpilot.
One anonymous investigator wrote on Glassdoor that: “The organisation is blindly chasing productivity gains while treating employees badly.”
Another said: “Senior management are in cloud cuckoo. They say that you can resolve complaints with just a few phone calls. Easy as that.”
A third said: “'There is no respect for knowledge and no understanding of the complexities that may arise dealing with complaints in different financial products.”
Dispatches revealed that some investigators are relying on Google when faced with a new product because their knowledge is so shallow.
People with legitimate claims, particularly on PPI may have had them rejected.
One investigator told Dispatches: “Bear in mind I’ve been doing this now a year and a half…even now I look at an investment case and I don’t know what to ask for.”
Fos has said it felt the documentary was unfair but there is the suggestion of a catastrophic lack of training.
How are these people to come to a fair resolution if they cannot recognise the type of products they are dealing with or are under pressure to rush through cases?
Changes to working practices have been highlighted on websites as has disaffection with senior management.
But outside factors have also taken their toll.
Last year Fos received 168,769 new complaints about PPI – that’s 52.5 per cent of the 321,283 received in total – as big banks continue to pass them on rather doing the work themselves.
So I have a degree of sympathy if managers have looked for a more streamlined way of handling them.
It could be argued that the banks’ refusal to take possession of a problem they created has resulted in an increasingly dysfunctional Fos for both consumer and the rest of the financial industry.
And it is highly unlikely the claims industry would have grown so large if the banks had not been so quick to reject and ignore legitimate claims
But there are worrying question over whether Fos is failing to serve both the consumer nor the industry as it should.
Perhaps the Treasury select committee should take a look before the situation deteriorates further.
Auto-enrolment next steps
The next step on pension auto-enrolment takes place on 6 April when employers minimum contributions double to 2 per cent and employees’ rise from 1 per cent to 3 per cent.
This will mean someone on £20,000 paying almost £28 per month rather than less than a tenner at the moment.