Financial Ombudsman Service  

Fos to 'significantly' cut waiting times

Fos to 'significantly' cut waiting times

The Financial Ombudsman Service has promised to "significantly" reduce waiting times for complaints this year but warned necessary recruitment plans will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  

For the coming year the Fos said it aimed to have no consumer waiting longer than four weeks for a case handler to begin investigating a complaint.

The ombudsman said: "We know that, while a complaint is unresolved, the parties involved can’t move on from the issue in hand.

"For this reason, our planning for next year centres on a commitment to bringing down waiting times significantly."

The ombudsman addressed the time taken to resolve a case once a handler had begun an investigation, but said this could be influenced by how promptly the business and any claims management company involved cooperated with an investigation.

The Fos said aligning its case handling staff to demand for its service was "fundamental" to reducing wait times, but warned its recruitment plans this year will likely be affected by the impact of coronavirus. 

The pledge comes as the ombudsman confirmed a £83.9m compulsory levy for 2020/21 in its final plans and budget published today (April 8). 

It follows confirmation last week that the service had shaken up its funding plans in light of the coronavirus crisis to save firms within its remit a combined £25.4m, which it will now absorb from its own reserves. 

In light of the pandemic the ombudsman has also shifted its income to a 70:30 split between case fees and the levy, despite originally proposing a 50:50 funding model last year which was eventually recalculated to a 60:40 split following industry backlash. 

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman and chief executive at the Fos, said it "went without saying" that Covid-19 would further amplify the uncertainty and complexity of the service's casework. 

Ms Wayman said: "In the current circumstances – and given the imperative that firms’ focus remains firmly on supporting customers – we are postponing publishing more details about our future strategy.

"Instead, we’ve put our energy into ensuring we’re playing our part in insulating businesses against the shock of Covid‐19.

"This has meant adjusting our proposals for funding our service this year – while still ensuring our finances allow us to provide the effective service people need and expect from us, especially given the increased potential for financial hardship and vulnerability among UK consumers and business alike." 

In today's published plan the Fos confirmed the price tag of its case fee had risen from £550 to £650, the first increase since 2013.

The number of ‘free’ cases will remain at 25 for firms not in a “group arrangement” instead of cutting the allowance to 10 for such companies, while a reduction in the number of free cases from 125 to 50 for larger firms in a "group arrangement" will go ahead as planned.

The ombudsman predicted nine of 10 firms would not pay any case fees at all over the next year.