You don’t have to pay to make a financial complaint
The Financial Ombudsman service is a (currently) free service that allows consumers to escalate unresolved complaints on financial matters, normally against banks, insurers and finance firms. As with other ombudsman services, their aim is to listen to the case impartially, and to decide what redress, if any is appropriate.
However, some businesses are looking to make the service fee-paying in order to discourage complaints. Which would be nice. For them.
The ombudsman reports that they regularly get ‘suggestions’ from businesses under their remit that those wishing to make a complaint should have to pay an upfront fee, or face the case charges if their complaint is unsuccessful, for example with “ a nominal £50 or £100 fee”. While understanding the perspective of smaller businesses who might feel victimised by spurious or speculative claims, the Financial Ombudsman office is “very unlikely” to change its views on charging the public, given its free service “underpins confidence in financial services” and “recognises that some of the people most in need of help might not be in a position to pay for it.”
In fact, the ombudsman is actually showing itself to be something of consumer champion, saying in its latest newsletter that, the current economic climate has meant it has received many more complaints from people who are claiming out of a dire financial need, rather than to uphold their own rights as consumers. The ombudsman points out that for “someone missing or making only minimum payments on high-interest debt, a £50 fee is clearly far from nominal.” The Financial Ombudsman also thinks that £50 is higher than many direct debit payments and money transfers, and would be a fairly hefty charge for any other financial services, and that’s why it’s having none of it.
The crucial point being championed by the ombudsman service here is that channels of complaint should be available to anyone who has been disadvantaged, treated unfairly or missold- not just those who can afford to make a claim. Indeed, it is the very people who cannot afford a claim who are the ones who are most in need of having their consumer rights protected.
The ombudsman is clear that it is trying to avoid situations where the ‘nominal’ fee makes it economically- insane to complain- if your bank has overcharged you by £30, but it will cost you £50 and lots of time to try and get it back, what is the actual point? The Financial Ombudsman is also protecting its “free for all” service, noting that charging a fee would mean some people could not afford to complain- people who “don’t have £50 to cover the basics of everyday life, let alone to cover a complaining fee”. As they put it, if these people “had £50 to spare, they might not have a problem in the first place.”
The Financial Ombudsman’s office therefore wins our Consumer Champion of the Day award. Thanks guys.