Ombushambles II: service in slo-mo
When you are told that your “train is delayed owing to late running”, the incongruity between the announcer’s competence and management’s good intentions is faintly amusing. But the Financial Ombudsman Service’s complete inability to manage its case load or even provide any coherent account of its delays is more like a train crash.
Readers will know of my attempts to get the service to review some of my complaints about financial institutions behaving…as financial institutions do. So when my adjudicator refused to tell me how long it would take before an ombudsman would review his assessment, I made a robust request for more information which qualified under the Freedom of Information Act for a clearer response. Unfortunately the first attempt was not. So that too went to internal review. And here, for the information of any possible users of this service, is this week’s account the FOS have given me of the time taken:
There are three ombudsman queues for investment complaints: pensions; portfolio management; and general investment cases. […] These three queues are separate, the cases are handled by different casework teams and each queue is allocated to different groups of ombudsmen.
The cases in the ombudsman queue are ordered chronologically based on when we converted the case. The conversion date is the date our service accepts your complaint and progresses it to a casework team for an investigation. This means that if a case is older but took longer in casework, this would nevertheless be placed higher in the queue than a younger case that is already in the queue. As such, the timeframes to review complaints awaiting allocation continuously vary as older cases may enter the queue at a later date.
As of the beginning of last week, in the pensions queue, the age of cases currently being allocated to ombudsmen is around 14 to 15 months. In the portfolio management queue, the age of cases being allocated to ombudsmen is around 24 to 30 months. In the general investment queue the age of the cases being allocated to ombudsmen is around 18 months. So far in the current financial year, we have issued 1,824 final decisions in general investment, 923 in pensions and 279 in portfolio management. Some cases are also resolved in other ways, for example a party may withdraw a complaint. […]
There is no way to determine exactly how long it will take for an individual case to be reviewed by an ombudsman. This is because the time taken to review each complaint in the queue will vary depending on the facts and complexity of each case. […]
On average we expect cases in the general investment queue to take six months from the date they enter the ombudsman queue, before they are allocated to an ombudsman, but this is an estimate and is dependent on when it enters the queue and the number and complexity of the cases in the queue.[…]
Perhaps I should open a book on the day I can expect my decision. Will it be 18 months after my initial complaint or 6 months after it joined the queue for proper attention (10 months earlier in my case, but apparently not for most people)? At least Galton’s punters guessing the weight of an ox had something to go on, however erroneous their individual guesses; but here the wisdom of crowds is smothered by the clouds of incoherence.
In case you are surprised by the total number of cases discussed above, remember this account only deals with those waiting to go to the ombudsmen. I was also told–
I have searched our systems for the number of complaints resolved between 11 November 2013 and 11 November 2014. For this period, I can confirm that across all financial products we resolved 479,613 complaints and that under general investment we resolved 17,007 complaints. … Our data shows that of the 17,007 resolved complaints recorded under general investment, 8,772 complaints were resolved more than six years after the incident date.
From this you can work out that a great many people give up without progressing to a formal ombudsman decision. It is not difficult to see why. Yet this is a service which is bound by law to try to resolve complaints “at the earliest possible stage”.