On 22 November 2022, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) published the Independent Assessor’s Annual Report 2021-2022.

During the financial year, the assessor investigated 568 services complaints out of 4131, received by the FOS. This shows that for the most part, customers that raised complaints were either satisfied with the response they received from the FOS or did not have a complaint that the assessor could review.

Furthermore the report highlights that the FOS has resolved 218,740 cases and 1.9% of those customers complained about the service and only 0.3% remained unhappy and escalated their complaint to the assessor.

The report shares the following general observations with the FOS to see if they resonate, and if so, what action can be taken to address them:

  • Case recording and management – cases identified a need for consistency and accuracy and a clearer identification and management of multiple cases from one complainant. Also, a need to ensure information on the case management system is clear and readily available.
  • Unreasonable behaviour policy – incidences of inconsistent application of this policy were identified and it has since been reviewed by the service.
  • Prolonged cases – Cases were identified where it was felt they could have been concluded sooner – especially where the outcome is clear. Cases were also highlighted where there had been a group hold for policy or legal reasons. There were also cases where the needs of the customer were not fully identified so the service given missed the mark for an extended period.
  • Changes of opinion – There were cases where this could have been handled better for the customer.
  • Process for allocating cases – This can be drawn out and so delay the case getting off the blocks. This could be smoother to reduce the frustration experienced by customers.
  • Role and remit – It was evident that this is not clear to all customers and it would help the passage of cases and customer satisfaction, were it made so. This included the finality of the Final Decision and being clearer about this from the start.
  • Impact of general policy decisions – There were cases where these resulted in individual customers feeling let down and misled, undermining trust and confidence in the FOS.
  • Customer experiences brick wall – This concerned the FOS repeating rules but failing to appreciate and answer legitimate challenges – appearing defensive and evasive.
  • Perceived lack of fairness in this process – The example here is where the same Ombudsman advised the case handler and also issued the Final Decision – the fact that this is acceptable within the process does not shift the perception of unfairness – especially where the case handler has indicated that a shift in view is unlikely. The process should be reviewed.
  • Importance of keeping promises and honouring commitments – This is an obvious point in customer service but is not always observed. It was also highlighted that any departure from process should be justifiable, explained and supported by an audit trail. Furthermore, whilst actions taken ahead of deadline would generally be a good thing in terms of timeliness, it is not the case if it comes as a surprise, wrong footing the customer and depriving them of a window to act or submit material/comment.
  • Data transfer – some data has been lost on transferring cases from one system to another.
  • Fairness as between parties – There have been cases where the perception that businesses are treated more favourably has been borne out and it appears, they have been afforded more leniency and leeway over deadlines.