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ombudsman news

issue 105

September/October 2012

who's trying it on?

It's not news that we're receiving record levels of complaints. And the media is never short of stories about the widespread lack of trust in financial services - and real-life examples of where financial institutions have got things badly wrong.

But recently, I've noticed a shift in the way this is reported and commented on. Alongside concerns about the banks' sales approach and incentives, I've noticed more talk of "fraudulent claims" - with some reports that people are claiming for policies they never actually had. All this fuels the argument that society's in the grip of "compensation culture" - and that this culture is growing in financial services.

I can't speak for other areas - and I'd imagine that people involved in delivering other services to the public may have a different perspective. But I'm not seeing anything that suggests that consumers are more likely to make a speculative claim now than in the past.

We have the legal power to dismiss complaints made by consumers who are being "frivolous and vexatious". We take this power seriously - and we use it. But outside mass disputes - like PPI - we don't find many of these cases.

I'd also expect to see our "uphold rates" affected by such a culture shift. But they're stable - and we actually upheld slightly more complaints last year than we did the year before. It's true that we're busier than ever, but the mounting number of cases reaching us isn't just down to PPI. We're also seeing more complaints about other things - and we're upholding roughly the same proportion as we always have.

So if the perception of a compensation culture isn't supported by consumer behaviour, where has it come from? I would argue that the answer lies partly with financial businesses themselves. Faced with considerable evidence of bad practice - and hefty costs to put it right - it's tempting to deflect some of the responsibility back onto the consumer. Add to this the ever-present advertising by claims management companies - which bolsters the idea that people will willingly "have a go" - and the picture is complete.

But how has the claims management sector managed to gain such a foothold? Largely because of the mistakes made by financial businesses, and the fact that nobody moved quickly enough to put things right.

Many consumers have been wronged already. Some of these people are now being exploited by companies offering to help them get their money back. To accuse people of "trying it on" feels like another blow.

But as long as we're still getting those text messages telling us to claim money back from the PPI policy we've never even heard of, this idea that we're in the grip of compensation culture is unlikely to go away.

Natalie Ceeney
chief executive and chief ombudsman

image: ombudsman news issue 101

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.