Firstly, I must point out that the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) is independent in the performance of his statutory functions. I have no role in the day-to-day workings of the office or in the decisions which he takes.
Section 56(4) of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides that:
"The Ombudsman shall, without prejudice to the form of investigation, ensure investigations are conducted otherwise than in public."
Given that the services provided by the FSPO are confidential in nature, it would not be appropriate for him to confirm or deny the existence of a complaint from a named complainant, nor would it be appropriate to comment on any individual case.
However, on the issue more generally, the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman was established on 01 January 2018 to resolve complaints from consumers, including small businesses and other organisations, against financial service providers or pension providers. The Ombudsman provides an independent, fair, impartial, confidential and free service to resolve complaints through either informal mediation or formal investigation and adjudication.
When a consumer is unable to resolve a complaint or dispute with a financial service or pension provider, they can refer their complaint to the FSPO. The FSPO deals with complaints informally at first, by listening to both parties and engaging with them to facilitate a resolution that is acceptable to both parties. Where these early interventions do not resolve the dispute, the FSPO formally investigates the complaint and issues a decision that is legally binding on both parties, subject only to an appeal to the High Court.
During the formal investigation of complaints, documentary and audio evidence, and other material, together with submissions from the parties, are gathered by the Office and exchanged between the parties. Following detailed consideration of all of the evidence and submissions made, a preliminary decision is issued to the parties and they are advised that certain limited further submissions can be made prior to the issuing of a legally binding decision.
The Ombudsman's aim is to resolve all complaints as effectively as possible. While many complaints can be resolved quite quickly through the informal processes which rely heavily on mediation techniques, it can take considerably longer to resolve complaints where a full investigation and adjudication is required. For those complaints which are resolved through the more formal process, the timeframe is determined by the number of submissions received from the parties as all the evidence must be gathered and exchanged in accordance with fair procedures before the issues are considered and a preliminary decision and subsequently a legally binding decision is issued to both parties. In addition, the adjudication of a complaint will sometimes require an oral hearing where evidence is taken under oath.
Section 62 of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides the FSPO with the power to publish legally binding decisions in relation to complaints concerning financial service providers. The legislation provides that decisions should be published in a manner that ensures that a complainant is not identified by name, address or otherwise and a provider is not identified by name or address.