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Merricks hits out at high-complaint firms’ attitudes

Chief ombudsman says poor performers show no willingness to improve.

Financial Ombudsman Service chief ombudsman Walter Merricks has attacked the standard of complaint handling across the industry and suggests publishing performance league tables if there is no improvement.

Speaking at a Pima conference in London, Merricks said that despite the heavy emphasis that the FSA has placed on complaint handling as part of treating customers fairly, the standards remain “variable, to say the least”.

He said, with the FSA setting a March deadline for embedding TCF, firms still have a huge amount of work to ensure this is in place in their complaint-handling procedures.

He told delegates if regulatory pressure does not improve standards, it may be because there is little consumer pressure to drive up competition as the FSA and FOS do not publish complaint data.

The FOS compiles a benchmarking table showing the top 12 firms – which are responsible for over half of the complaints received – with an updated table sent to firms every six months.

But Merricks says the “depressing fact” is that these firms show no ambition to improve performance and no willingness to promote good performance, which he believes could be due to fears that stock analysts would mark shares down on the grounds that firms were a “soft touch” on complaints.

He said the rise of claim management companies had been an “unmitigated disaster” for the industry and that despite the controversy over the pension review, at least it did not spawn the rise of claim-chasers and the headaches that this has caused both the FOS and the industry.

Merricks said: “In a world where schools, hospitals, rail operators and even fertility clinics are ranked in public league tables, I can see commentators arguing that data about the response to complaints by regulated financial firms, which are required to make half-yearly returns of this information to the regulator, should be in the public domain.”

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