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ombudsman news

issue 51

January/February 2006

the rites of spring ...

This first issue of ombudsman news in 2006 introduces some new content, including ombudsman focus – featuring interviews with some of our senior staff. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions about topics you’d like us to cover in future issues.

Springtime at the Financial Ombudsman Service is budget-setting time. For me and my senior colleagues this means visiting the main trade associations to talk about our plans for the coming year. It’s always a valuable exercise, and most trade bodies use it to raise issues that interest them about our case-handling as well as about our financial and operational forecasts. This year we have widened the agenda by asking our stakeholders to consider some broader corporate themes as well as our budget.

For the time being our caseload continues to be dominated by mortgage endowments. Currently we receive around 250 mortgage endowment complaints every working day, as well as around 170 other complaints. We recognise that our role in handling mortgage endowment complaints (as part of the regulator’s wider initiatives to tackle the issue) has been an uncomfortable one for many firms. They have felt a much larger impact from our decision-making than they have ever been used to in any other product area. To some extent, this has strained relations. And the large wave of endowment complaints we have been receiving has meant we have had to ask consumers to wait longer for their cases to be resolved than we would have wished.

In due course we expect endowment complaints to decline, as firms apply time bars. But for the next year or so we expect a period of relative stability and certainly not the dramatic increase in complaint numbers that we have seen in the past three years.

With a more stable caseload and staffing it’s time to begin exploring some of the other issues that have been raised with us. One of these is the way we are funded – currently by a mix of an annual levy and case fees. We know there are many different views about this across the industry, generally influenced by the number of complaints an individual firm actually receives.

We are planning to review our funding arrangements this year. We’ll be looking at a range of possibilities within the statutory and legal framework. And if there is a reasonable degree of support for changes, we might be able to introduce them next year.

Openness and predictability are also themes we are exploring. Our roots have been in what, originally, were private dispute-resolution schemes. So we don’t publish our decisions – other than the anonymised cases we select and publish on these pages. This means that only the parties to an individual case see the full reasons why we’ve upheld or rejected the complaint. Any ensuing publicity comes from one or other of the parties in dispute, who may well put their own "spin" on what we are alleged to have said. While ombudsman news and this website contain a considerable amount of information on our approach to decision-making, there is perhaps more that we could do to satisfy a demand for greater predictability in this area.

So as the days lengthen and we can hope for warmer weather, if you’re sparing a thought for the Financial Ombudsman Service, have a look at our corporate plan, and let me know what you think.

Walter Merricks,
chief ombudsman

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news issue 51 [PDF format]

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.