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19/10/2021

Making Cents: How to make a complaint to the FSPO

Making Cents: How to make a complaint to the FSPO

last year complainants to the FSPO benefitted from their intervention where settlements were agreed to the tune of €6.34m

LAST year, Ulster Bank Ireland had more complaints upheld against it, by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) than any other financial services provider.

It’s the second year in a row that it topped the list.

PTSB came in second, BOI were third and Irish Life Assurance were fourth.

The number of new complaints the FSPO received last year was 5,295, which was an increase of 35% from the previous year. And of the new complaints received, 56% related to banking products, and issues relating to mortgages making up around half of this number.

About a third of the remaining complaints related to insurance, with a further 6% to investment products and 4% with pension schemes.

The purpose of the FSPO is that if you have a problem with a regulated financial services company, and they haven’t resolved the matter to your satisfaction, you can reach out to them and ask them to mediate and hopefully resolve the issue satisfactorily for you.

And last year, complainants to the FSPO benefitted from their intervention where settlements were agreed to the tune of €6.34m.

So, using the FSPO clearly has its advantages. It’s a free service and therefore much cheaper and safer than trying to get a resolution via the courts. And their mantra is to ensure financial institutions treat customers fairly, which means it can rule against companies even if they're acting within the law, so the law isn't the only thing they take into consideration.

The type of products/services that fall under the remit of their office is large, and the ones you can complain about, are financial services and pension providers.

And financial service providers include:

n banks

n building societies

n insurance companies

n credit unions

n credit intermediaries

n stockbrokers

n health insurance companies

n money lenders

n bureau de change

n hire purchase providers

n mortgage brokers, insurance brokers and other intermediaries.

n pawnbroker

n And pension providers are:

n an organisation or person(s) involved in the running of your pension scheme.

n employers who offer occupational pension schemes, PRSAs and Trust RACs

n trustees, administrators, consultants, managers, insurance companies of occupational pension schemes, PRSAs and Trust RACs

n government departments or state bodies running pension schemes for their employees

You’ll note that social welfare pensions don’t fall into the categories I just mentioned, so you can’t make a complaint to the FSPO in this instance. Any complaint you have related to them, has to be referred to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

The areas I personally come across when it comes to people making most complaints about, are dominated by mortgages with people complaining about interest rates, how they are being dealt with when it comes to arrears, bank and credit card charges and fees, the mis-selling of insurance products and inappropriate investment accounts.

If you have a compliant but you're not sure whether it’s covered by the offices of the FSPO, it's worth perhaps giving them a call (01-5677000) first to see or sending them an email (info@fspo.ie) And the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told they can get involved or adjudicate.

If they can, then great, and I’m going to give you a very quick guide as to what the process is like, what you can expect to happen, what the timeline of events are etc.

Stage 1

You must first, have made a complaint to your existing financial services provider

It’s important that you first let your Financial Service Provider know that you are unhappy. It is best to put your complaint to your Financial Service Provider in writing and keep a copy of your letter. You must give your Financial Service Provider an opportunity to look into your problem and allow them to try to reach a resolution.

They have 40 business days from the date you notified them of the issue within which to attempt to investigate and resolve your complaint.

If your Financial Service Provider cannot resolve your complaint within 40 business days’ it must inform you of the anticipated timeframe within which it hopes to resolve the complaint and must inform you that you can refer the matter to the Ombudsman.

Stage 2

In order to lodge a complaint, you will need to complete a complaint form and submit it along with the referral letter from the Provider. This referral letter is issued by the Provider when you have completed their internal complaints process with no resolution.

When submitting your complaint, it’s important that you present it in a clear and concise manner. You should detail what has happened to date, and how you feel you have a legitimate complaint. It is important that you include all key dates and name the product you are complaining about. You should also illustrate what would remedy the situation for you.

When submitting your complaint, its’ important that you include all relevant documentation which the ombudsman may rely on during their investigation e.g. policy docs, correspondence to and from the provider etc.

Assessing a complaint

When the complaint is received by the ombudsman, it is assessed to determine whether they can accept it or not. If the matter is deemed to be outside their remit, the complainant will be informed as to why it cannot be investigated.

And if the complaint can be accepted, it will continue to the next stage of the process which is to offer mediation to both parties to the dispute.

And mediation is voluntary. This means that both the Complainant and the Provider have to agree to take part. And either the Complainant or the Provider do agree to it, they can end it at any time.

It’s an informal and confidential process, conducted in private. And anything said during mediation and any document prepared for the mediation, cannot be used in any later investigation of your complaint, or in any legal action before a court.

If agreement is not reached

If either the Complainant or the Provider are not willing to take part in mediation, or if the mediation is not successful in reaching a solution, the complaint will go to investigation and adjudication where a decision is made by a different third party, and it may take some weeks before the formal investigation commences

Once a case has been approved for investigation, a timeframe in the region of 6-8 weeks may apply before formal investigation of the complaint will commence.

Findings

When the investigation is complete, the ombudsman will issue the finding to the Complainant and the Provider.

Findings can have only three possible outcomes:

1. Your complaint is upheld.

2. Your complaint is partly upheld.

3. Your complaint is not upheld.

The finding is legally binding on the Complainant and the Provider. This concludes the dispute, ending the complaints process.

High Court Appeals

A Finding of the Financial Service Ombudsman is legally binding on both parties, subject only to appeal by either party to the High Court. A party has 21 calendar days from the date of the Financial Service’s Ombudsman's Finding in which to appeal to the High Court. It is open to the High Court to extend the period of an appeal, if it considers in its discretion that it should do.

Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd, based in Plassey. He can be contacted at liam@harmonics.ie or www.harmonics.ie

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