Financial Ombudsman Service 

Ombudsman denies making inconsistent decisions

Ombudsman denies making inconsistent decisions

Caroline Mitchell, lead ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service, has hit back at claims her organisation is inconsistent in its judgements.

Advisers have long criticised the decision body for what they say are contradictory rulings which they argue tend to go against the advice firm.

But speaking at FTAdviser’s Unpackaging Pensions event, sponsored by Aviva, Ms Mitchell said she hoped she would be able to convince the main adviser trade body, the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association, that Fos rulings were consistent.

Her comments follow moves by the advice industry to challenge Fos on its decisions.

In March, Pimfa's predecessor, the Association of Professional Financial Advisers, announced plans to probe upheld Financial Ombudsman Service decisions against advisers to build up a body of evidence to fight unfair rulings.

The trade body warned the ombudsman's stance on certain complaints could undermine the existence of focused advice.

The Financial Conduct Authority defines this as "advice focused, at the request of the customer, on the provision of personal recommendations relating to a specific need, designated investment or certain assets", rather than the client's entire financial situation.

The trade body asked advisers to send in cases where an ombudsman has found against them for actions a client took without their recommendation so it could build up a body of evidence.

Ahead of the merger with the Wealth Management Association members to form Pimfa, Chris Hannant, Apfa’s then director general, said the rules on this issue appeared to be ambiguous and he was keen to tackle this issue.

A packed conference room of financial advisers, gathered in London last week, were told by Ms Mitchell that she would be willing to look at the evidence gathered from Pimfa members and respond to the trade body.

Ms Mitchell said: “We make evidence based decision and we don’t apply hindsight.

“I had six cases sent to me by a large insurer that thought we had been inconsistent in our approach and in every case I am pleased to say I was able to show there was something that made a difference.

“It is really useful for me to see these sorts of things because perhaps we just haven’t explained it (our decision) as well as we should be explaining it.

“There are well over 100,000 decisions on our database but perhaps we don’t explain it as well as we should.”

In response to Ms Mitchell’s comments, Sheena Gillett, head of communications and PR at Pimfa, said: “We intend to continue the information gathering process as Pimfa.

"We have an ongoing relationship with the Financial Ombudsman Service and have regular meetings.

"Our chief executive Liz Field is due to meet with the Fos chief executive Caroline Wayman shortly and this will certainly be an item on the agenda.”