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FOS fears knock-on costs from time-bar confusion

Consumer confusion over time-bars could lead to a rise in next year’s Financial Ombudsman Service budget.

Chief ombudsman Walter Merricks warns that the service will be tied up increasingly in dealing with consumers who have been time-barred.

He says time-barring may look an open and shut case to many in the industry but for consumers it generates an “understandable sense of grievance”.

Head of communications David Cresswell says dealing with consumers frustrated over time-bars will have the knock-on effect of increasing costs for the adviser sector.

Cresswell warns advisers that they need to be quick when providing evidence that a time-bar has been illustrated clearly to clients but admits that the FOS’s hands are often tied as evidence needs to come from life companies which may be slow to provide information.

If evidence of a time-bar is not forthcoming, the complaint will be upheld and a case fee will be charged to the adviser if they have gone over their allocation of two free cases or are part of a network.

Cresswell also warns that as the industry moves towards the end of the cycle for endowment complaints – the last time-bars will come into force in 2009 – the most complex cases will come out of the woodwork.

Merricks says: “Time-barred endowment complaints may look open and shut but their emotional content may be more explosive. I am not sure how we will explain the impact of that to those who scrutinise our budget.”

In July, the FOS forecast a continued increase in endowment complaints against advisers as they typically lag behind general trends in the industry.

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