Back in the mists of time when I had a proper office job, the month of August could be purgatory for the handful of journalists chained to their desks.
Almost everyone went on holiday, so it was difficult to get someone to speak to you. Even worse was the fact there were very few decent news stories around, which left us scribes desperately searching for something to write about – and coming up with some ridiculous stuff as a result.
I remember The Sun telling us how a constellation of stars that looked like Victor Meldrew had been found. On another occasion, a cat became a dotcom millionaire. I also recall a story, again published in August, about cows mooing in local accents.
No wonder it’s called the silly season – stories that would otherwise be laughed off as preposterous are suddenly given an airing.
It is in that same silly season spirit I find myself trying to understand the furore over a story, reported in Money Marketing, that the Financial Ombudsman Service joined in a National Complaints Day where the best complaint was rewarded with an iPad.
I was away on a short break the week before last and did not come back until after the recent bank holiday, so imagine my surprise to read this news, followed on Money Marketing’s website by no less than 37 comments and an editorial against the FOS for taking part in the event.
Maybe I am missing the point but I really do think one or two people commenting on this issue ought to get a life.
First, let’s look at the background – half a dozen organisations – including the FOS, the Government-funded Consumer Direct organisation, the claims management unit in the Ministry of Justice and the legal service team from Which? – getting together to tell consumers they should not put up with shoddy service.
If you go to the website promoting the event, it is clear the kind of complaint they had in mind was aimed at holiday firms, dodgy hotels and the like – turning your holiday gripes into consumer rights is the slogan running across the top of the page. Click on the FOS link and you are taken to a page where you are invited to set out your complaint.
A quick check of earlier issues people have moaned about is whether Thomas Cook should have flown people back from Kos to Newcastle, as per the original booking, or Manchester where they eventually landed, or adding an extra row of seats to a flight from Vancouver, reducing the advertised leg room from 33ins to 24ins.
All in all, mundane stuff that need hardly trouble most sensible IFAs. Indeed, judging by the capacity of many of their peers to whinge on endlessly at the drop of a hat, I half expected to see some familiar advisers’ names on the list of those complaining on the site. Maybe, given that complainants are all treated anonymously, I suspect that at least half of them are from stroppy IFAs.
So there you have it, a summer promotion aimed at telling people they do not have to sit quietly and accept shoddy service, with a small prize as an incentive to complain themselves. The FOS, as an organisation whose specific remit is that of dealing with complaints, decides to take part in the event.
It might strike some of you, myself included, as a little bit cheap. But come on, guys, is it really as shocking as all that? I struggle to understand the animus generated about the involvement of the FOS.
Some of you might be thinking that it is one thing to adjudicate on complaints and another to actively encourage people to make them. As it happens, I do not have a problem with the FOS inviting people to complain, especially if, in turn, it is prepared to waive fees against IFAs if it finds the grievance cannot be sustained. Now that would be something worth campaigning about.
Ironically, my own reservations are over a range of public sector and semi-statutory bodies getting involved with a privately owned organisation, as ComplaintCommunity describes itself on the website. All the more so as ComplaintCommunity gives no details that I can see on the site of who actually owns it, what its funding is or its business model.
Its founder and chief executive Neil Gleeson is registered on LinkedIn but his full profile offers no details about him other than his involvement with ComplaintCommunity – and an endorsement from former Birmingham Midshires boss Michael Jackson, with whom he appears to have worked at some point. Hardly very transparent, either the company or Gleeson.
Yet none of the hostile comments about the FOS’s activity appear to reflect this concern, focusing instead on the free iPad angle. If that’s all some of you have to whinge about, you need to get out more.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org