Delays in getting a case heard by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) have grown threefold since the service was reorganised in 2016, and 30,000 cases are still waiting to be allocated to an investigator, a whistleblower has told the Treasury select committee.
Questioning the FOS chief executive, Caroline Wayman, MPs said the whistleblower also told them there was a backlog of 8,000 investigated claims yet to be adjudicated upon.
The committee has been investigating the FOS, which is the official body to which consumers can take a dispute with their bank, insurer or other finance firm.
Consumers have frequently complained to their MPs and the media that the adjudication service takes far too long, and feels as though it is stacked in favour of the big City firms, whose staff often employ delaying and other tactics.
The House of Commons inquiry was in part sparked by a Channel 4 Despatches programme in March 2018 that claimed the organisation was failing consumers, particularly those who had complex cases. The service is free to consumers, but financial firms have to pay about £500 per claim adjudicated.
Wayman did not dispute the whistleblower’s claims, but defended the FOS’s record. She said the organisation typically deals with about 100,000 “core” disputes each year, but it had recorded 50,000 more complaints about payday lenders from consumers in the past year.
This had caused delays, she admitted, but pointed to the recruitment of more staff that would ease the case load, particularly in the low-cost credit market. She also said the number would have been higher had Wonga not collapsed.
MPs expressed concerns that the delays getting cases heard are only set to get worse. In 10 weeks’ time, they said, 210,000 more small- and medium-sized businesses will be entitled to use the service – a service that is already “swamped”.
Wayman said additional recruitment would address these concerns and that an extra 20 ombudsmen were being recruited to deal with SME complaints. Payment protection complaints had fallen below those expected in the last 12 months, she added.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) set a deadline of 29 August for the final PPI claims to banks and other loan providers.
Asked why the FOS was shedding permanent staff through a voluntary redundancy programme, while taking on more expensive “contract” staff, she claimed this gave the FOS flexibility. MPs expressed shock that the FOS plans to spend £100m-plus a year on contractors from the next financial year.