Find out about how your complaints should be handled during the coronavirus situation.
Coronavirus and the associated public health measures may be making it harder for some financial services firms to deal with consumer complaints.
It is important that firms continue to handle complaints and do this fairly. But, like other businesses, they are being affected by practical issues, such as complaint handlers having to work from home or reduced office capacity.
We have asked firms to prioritise:
- paying consumers who have accepted offers of redress
- handling complaints from consumers whose circumstances make them especially vulnerable to harm if their complaint is not resolved promptly and fairly
- handling complaints from micro-enterprises and small businesses who are likely to face serious financial difficulties if their complaint is not resolved promptly and fairly
Circumstances that can cause you to become vulnerable include:
- poor health
- low financial or emotional resilience
- life events such as bereavement or divorce
- low capability, including poor digital (the ability to communicate and transact online), language and cognitive skills, as well as low financial capability
We have told firms to be aware that coronavirus and the current public health measures are likely to make consumers more vulnerable. They may also cause many consumers who would not normally think of themselves as vulnerable to suddenly face circumstances which would make them vulnerable. Things that could worsen, or suddenly cause, vulnerability may include:
- loss of income from losing employment or being furloughed
- the impact of long periods of isolation on mental and physical health, and ability to work and care for others
- the impact of extremely demanding working conditions and greater exposure to the virus itself, particularly in the case of some key workers
If any of these circumstances apply to you, or the issue you are complaining about is causing you serious problems, please explain this to the firm that is handling your complaint.
How quickly firms can handle complaints will be affected by the current disruption to their operations. However, firms should now have new ways of working in place, so it should only be in exceptional circumstances that you do not hear back from them on your complaint within the 8 weeks our rules usually require – or the 15 business days for payment services and e-money complaints.
If a firm cannot give you a final response within the required 8 weeks / 15 business days, it should send you a holding reply to explain:
- The reasons for the delay.
- When you can expect to receive a final response.
- Your right to now take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you are dissatisfied. (For payment services and e-money complaints the right to go to the Ombudsman Service starts at 35 business days, as long as the firm has sent you a holding response within 15 business days. If you have not received a holding response within 15 days, you can go to the Ombudsman Service after that point.).
However, in the current circumstances, we and the Ombudsman Service ask you to give firms a reasonable amount of extra time, beyond the timeframes set out in our rules, to give you a final response, before you exercise your right to go to the Ombudsman Service. This is because:
- in the current circumstances, it is unlikely that going straight to the Ombudsman Service now will get your complaint resolved more quickly
- if the Ombudsman Service considers the firm has not had a reasonable amount of time to give a final response, it may ask you to allow the firm more time
- being patient with firms will help ensure that the Ombudsman Service can focus on handling complaints that vulnerable consumers refer to it
We have told claims management companies (CMCs) that we expect them to show similar patience on behalf of their clients where they do not receive a final response to their complaint within timeframes set out in our rules.
You can be confident that once your complaint has been resolved, if you are entitled to redress, the firm will pay you interest on the amount you are due, typically at 8%. This interest will also apply to the length of time, however long, that it took for your complaint to be resolved.
However, if you feel there is a particular urgency about your individual complaint and circumstances, for example because you feel you are a vulnerable consumer, or a small business in serious financial difficulties, it may be reasonable for you to refer the matter to the Ombudsman Service sooner once the relevant timeframe since you complained to the firm has passed.
These points apply to all complaints, including PPI complaints, which we cover further in our specific update on PPI complaints.