Two weeks ago (May 19) I received an email about a freedom of information request. Since I had not submitted a FOI request recently, I wondered at first whether somebody was asking for information from me.
It turns out that it was a response to a request I had made to the Financial Conduct Authority back in July last year.
“Thank you for your request of July 30 2021,” the email reads. “We would like to extend our sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your request.”
Given that I had been expecting to hear back within the statutory 20 working days, I had dismissed the possibility of getting a response at all, let alone receiving an overdue one the following year.
The request I had made was for some data collected by the FCA from advice companies that had signed up to appear on a list that is available on the MoneyHelper website.
The list contains contact details of businesses that are willing to help mortgage prisoners and, among other things, the regulator collects data on the number of calls that these businesses receive via the list from mortgage prisoners.
But unfortunately for me, my request had been rendered mostly redundant after the FCA published its mortgage prisoners review in November. “[We] consider the information you have asked for is now publicly available,” the email reads.
After typing ‘FCA FOI delay’ into Google, I discovered that I was not the only one to have received the regulator’s apologies.
Sixty-three per cent of requests were completed within the statutory timeframe of 20 working days, according to the FCA’s service standards for April 2020 to March 2021.
However, the FCA says it expects to meet its target service standard of responding to at least 90 per cent of requests during 2022-23.
Commenting on the publication of this article, the FCA said: “Our team have experienced increasingly high volumes of requests for personal data and FOI requests.
“We have recognised that our performance needs to improve. We have already begun making the changes needed to do this, including reviewing our processes and recruiting new colleagues.”
A bigger picture
In the same week I received the overdue response, a compliance consultant I spoke to said their consultancy had noticed that timeframes were not being met on change in control applications.
Indeed, the FCA posted an update in February to its site about a significant increase in notifications for changes in control, leading to delays of about two months between notifications being submitted and their being allocated to a case officer.
Back in November the regulator acknowledged its response times were not good enough, in response to an unanswered question submitted to its annual public meeting about “significant” delays in the change in control application process, which the enquirer said was “really stifling competition and growth of businesses”.
Further down the list of unanswered questions is another about response times, with the enquirer saying the FCA was “way outside the agreed [Service Level Agreements] for all regulatory submissions”.