The FCA has been criticised by the Complaints Commissioner for delays in dealing with complaints, an issue the watchdog raised with the regulator in early 2016.
The annual report says: “While it is clear that the FCA now understands this issue, and has taken significant steps to increase the resources available to the complaints team to tackle the backlog, during 2016/17 it was inevitable that the backlog which had built up would take time to work through the system.”
It adds: “The commissioner’s office spent a considerable amount of time dealing with complaints that the FCA was not keeping complainants updated, and was taking far too long to conclude complaints. The unfortunate result was that people who were already feeling aggrieved found that the complaints process aggravated rather than ameliorated that sense of grievance.”
Commissioner Antony Townsend says the FCA has increased its complaints team in the past few months and made progress in tackling delays. However, he says in a large number of complaints about the FCA he had to comment on the delays in handling the complaint.
He says: “The FCA agrees that this is unsatisfactory, and I will continue to monitor this issue in 2017/18.”
Townsend says there is a minority of complaints where the FCA’s responses have “lacked an openness to acknowledge error fully” or have shown a reluctance to empathise with the position of the complainant or general public.
He says those cases are generally the more complex or sensitive cases, sometimes involving whistleblowers.
Townsend says in the report: “I have a particular concern that there is insufficient recognition that small firms, and less informed consumers, may not have the resources to understand complex matters in the way that, say, a large bank has. I was pleased the FCA invited me to address their senior managers recently on these issues, so that I could share those concerns.”
The Complaints Commissioner received 138 complaints about the FCA in 2016/17, compared to 82 the year before. Most of the complaints related to “failure to regulate properly”.
In response to the annual report, the FCA says: “We regret that the commissioner has had reason to repeat the recommendations made in his last annual report, particularly in relation to delays in handling complaints.
“We have increased the resources available to the complaints team, recruited more senior investigators with experience of dealing with complex cases and implemented revised procedures to address this issue.”
The regulator says it is working on improvements to the way it engages with complainants, including reviewing the tone of its communications. It says for a senior adviser has been appointed to lead the investigation on most complex cases.
The FCA says: “It will take time for the benefit of these changes to take full effect but we continue to focus on it and welcome the commissioner’s continued monitoring.
“There is an ongoing piece of work to review the complaints scheme. We plan to make the proposed technical improvements and amendments to the scheme available for consultation shortly.”