Financial Ombudsman Service  

Where now for the next Fos chief?

Where now for the next Fos chief?

The Financial Ombudsman Service has been under pressure for quite some time.

At chief executive and chief ombudsman Caroline Wayman's last meeting with the Treasury Select Committee in November, Mel Stride, MP and committee chair, described the Fos as an organisation with a number of problem areas it needed to focus on "fairly robustly" in order to move forward.

Just four months later, Wayman – who had been at the helm of the organisation for seven years – announced she was stepping down amid revelations by the Daily Mail's Money section that the Fos was facing a backlog of 158,000 complaints.

So, where now for the new chief of the ombudsman that has come under increased scrutiny in recent years over its handling of complaints, an organisational restructure reported to have gone wrong, and fees, among other issues?

Continuing uncertainty

Adam Samuel, a compliance consultant, author and former PIA ombudsman, says: “The new leader faces the challenge of continuing uncertainty about demand for the organisation, which makes planning almost impossible."

In 2015 the Fos undertook a major reorganisation, which saw more casework moved to be carried out by generalist investigators rather than specialist adjudicators.

During the TSC hearing, committee member Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, repeated allegations made by an ex-Fos staff turned whistleblower, that the reorganisation had left the service in "disarray", with the public waiting as long as two years to get justice – “assertions” that Wayman said she did not recognise.

Samuel says: “The Fos seems to be still suffering from a botched reorganisation some years ago which demoralised staff and produced no obvious benefits. 

“Its staff training has never been very good. In that respect, it handles far too much internally. It should be encouraging staff to obtain external professional qualifications at the very least to validate their knowledge.”

In a series of letter exchanges between Wayman and Stride, following the committee hearing, waiting time was just one in a long list of concerns raised.

Case costs was also included. The committee wanted to know, where the cost of a case is currently £960, what action was being taken to improve case-handling times and reduce costs closer toward the £650 case fee.

Also, given the expectation that growing complexity will increase cost per case, what action (with time frames) was being taken to improve case-handling times and reduce costs, while ensuring that the cases are handled well? 

And how do case-handlers ‘specialise’ where greater in-depth knowledge is required, and how are cases appropriately allocated to these specialist case-handlers?

In one of her written responses, in late January, Wayman said the Fos had set out to resolve significantly more cases than it expected to receive, which was part of its overall plan to bring down waiting times.