Maybe I am being overly generous, quite possibly it is a mirage of cheek masking a desperation born of fear, the fear of being revealed, the fear of being outed like some Parliamentary scrounger.
I am referring to the Treasury and specifically to Lord Myners’ lame response to the joint committee on human rights.
Unconvincingly, he attempts to legitimise base actions by likening the Financial Ombudsman Service’s rejection of the 15-year long stop to the conventions within which the Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO) operates.
Perhaps an apt analogy is of an exposed MP pointing to his opposition equivalent on the benches and shouting: “He’s at it as well…I think.”
Myners’ correlation is feeble and demands inspection. Unlike the FOS, the LSO cannot investigate the firm being complained about, it can only review the way in which one of the six legal professional bodies has investigated such a complaint and only within three months of the final decision letter. Even then, it can only recommend payment of compensation.
The legal professional bodies also work within carefully defined parameters. The Bar Standards Board investigates complaints against barristers and its rules stipulate that a complaint must be lodged within six months of the event being complained of, unless the Complaints Commissioners believe the complaint to be serious enough to have the time limit set aside.
The Legal Complaints Service (LCS), which investigates solicitors, also stipulates a six-month window for complaints.
There is one strategic difference between these bodies and the FOS. While both bodies, and also the Lay Observer for Northern Ireland, are able to investigate poor service, they all refuse to deal with complaints concerning professional negligence. These have to be taken via the courts, therefore, the 15-year long stop is automatically in play. When it scrutinises complaints against firms, the FOS investigates the entire works – negligence within the advice or product selection process as well as poor service.
While the FOS can award compensation up to £100,000, the maximum sum, the BSB can award is £5,000 for pre-July 2008 cases and £15,000 thereafter and this £15,000 figure aligns them with the LCS.
The Institute of Legal Executives is limited to £3,000 while another body, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, has no power to levy fines and its ultimate sanction is suspension of membership.
Lord Myners seeks to emphasise that the Treasury is not sure how the FOS compares with other ombudsman bodies.
Given the potentially ruinous impact of FOS decisions, one suggests that he should be aware (or ought reasonably to have become aware) before drafting his response.