Advisers have called into question claims made by the head of the Financial Ombudsman Service that the complaints adjudicator is “not a consumer champion”.
Earlier this week, Caroline Wayman told a committee of MPs that the FOS’ job was not to “advance the cases of the individual” but to provide a “level playing field”.
Wayman said: “What we are trying to do is provide fairness to both parties…There’s absolutely no question of us shifting in terms of that core impartiality.”
One adviser, who asked not to be named, tells Money Marketing that they believe there is still too much leeway in how the FOS can interpret complanits from consumers.
They say: “Ms Wayman has seriously misled the Treasury select committee with her statements. She has failed to describe the ‘inquisitorial remit’, a power held and utilised by FOS to interpret a consumer complaint any which way they choose to do so.
“In other words the outcome is not dependent upon the adviser proving that the advice they provided is suitable because the adjudicator or ombudsman is not subject to the same suitability standards as the professional adviser.
“Ms Wayman should be recalled to the committee to properly answer their questions and confirm the qualification levels of each adjudicator and ombudsman. She should also show evidence of the checklists and scorecards they use when examining complaints to prove they are fully considering suitability to a high enough standard.”
Other commenters questioned whether the independent assessor of complaints over FOS’ service standards should continue to be appointed by FOS’ board itself as is currently the case.
However, others came to the defence of FOS’ impartiality. Two-thirds of consumer complaints are rejected by the service.
One commenter wrote: “It is obviously completely wrong that we can be awarded against without the right to appeal but the cases that I have looked at appear to have been judged fairly and correctly.”
While ombudsman rulings are final. advisers can challenge procedural points on how the FOS arrived at its decisions and overturn them in court through a judicial review.
FOS has previously defended qualifications among staff, arguing that the core investigation and decision making skills of its adjudicators should be applicable to a wider range of cases and also help make the service more efficient.