As the Deputy will be aware, 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.
One of the main roles of the Ombudsman is to investigate, mediate and adjudicate complaints about the conduct of financial or pension service providers. The FSPO was established to provide an alternative to the Courts for consumers who have unresolved disputes with a financial or pension service provider and all investigations by the Ombudsman are free of charge to the consumer. Subject only to an appeal to the High Court, a finding of the Ombudsman in respect of a complaint is legally binding on all parties.
On the issue more generally, the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) was established on 1 January 2018 to resolve complaints from consumers, including small businesses and other organisations, against financial service or pension providers. The establishment of the FSPO resulted from the merger of the Office of the Pensions Ombudsman and the Financial Services Ombudsman’s Bureau.
In March 2019, the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman published an “Overview of Complaints” which provided a summary of the 5,588 eligible complaints made to the FSPO in 2018, its first year of operations. While acknowledging the successful closure of 4,443 complaints in 2018, this report confirms that the volume of complaints received caused the FSPO to be unable to process complaints as quickly as it would wish to and a main priority for 2019 would be to improve the timeliness of its service and deliver faster resolution of complaints.
A Workforce Plan for the period 2019 to 2023 was submitted to my Department in December 2018, which included an objective analysis of the level of resources currently available to the FSPO against both current and future demand for its services. The Workforce Plan aimed to address the large existing caseload of 3,187 complaints which the Office inherited on 01 January 2018, along with the sustained pattern of increased demand which the office continues to experience.
I approved a substantial increase in staff in the FSPO of 35 additional position and the Ombudsman has informed me that recruitment campaigns are currently ongoing. Such additional resources will allow the FSPO to deliver a better faster service for its customers, keep pace with the speed of change, tackle existing waiting times, and deliver the objectives in its Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021.