Case waiting times at the Financial Ombudsman Service (Fos) have been questioned by MPs after a whistleblower suggested wait times were now 10 times longer than before the service’s restructure.
Speaking at a Treasury select committee today (January 22), Labour MP Rushanara Ali said a whistleblower from the Fos had written to the committee claiming there were some 30,000 cases currently waiting to be allocated to a caseworker.
The whistleblower said the wait time to be allocated a caseworker was now 10 times what it was before the service’s restructure in 2016 and the queue for an ombudsman decision three times longer, with 8,000 cases still to be decided.
Ms Ali asked Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman and chief executive of the Fos, if these figures were correct and whether they made a "much more vociferous" case for better resources for the service.
Ms Wayman said the Fos’ strategic plan for the year ahead detailed plans to bring in extra resources, but focus should be given to reducing demand for the ombudsman’s services which she said had increased significantly this year.
She said the whistleblower’s figure for ombudsman decisions was "about right" and the service "probably" had more people waiting that it did three years ago, but this was an impact of receiving a lot more cases.
She said: "Part of what I think we have to do is to look at ways to reduce demand in the right way with financial businesses, particularly pay day lenders as an acute area at the moment.
"There are cases that come to us that shouldn't come to us, so within the plan and budget we are looking at quite significant investment next year."
The Fos' reorganisation had the aim of making it more responsive, and consisted of a new structure where the person who first receives the complaint will consider the complaint - regardless of whether it is about a type of product they have specialist knowledge of or not.
Under the previous structure complaints were assigned to an adjudicator with specialist knowledge about the type of product the consumer was recommended
Ms Wayman said the wait times were not due to the system becoming less effective due to the restructure, but because the Fos was much busier.
Ms Ali said she appreciated the Fos was being "lumbered with more work" with other financial bodies often pointing to the service as the answer to challenges, and she suggested Ms Wayman's concerns about "demand management" had to be addressed.