We have published near-final rules on extending access to the Financial Ombudsman Service (‘the ombudsman service’) to more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as larger charities and trusts, and a new category of personal guarantors. Our near-final rules set out the eligibility criteria that these complainants must meet to be able to refer complaints against financial services firms to the ombudsman service.
In January 2018, we published a Consultation Paper (CP18/3) proposing that SMEs with fewer than 50 employees, annual turnover of under £6.5m and an annual balance sheet total of under £5m should be able to access the ombudsman service on the same terms as individual consumers and micro-enterprises (the smallest SMEs). We proposed broadly equivalent eligibility criteria for charities and trusts. Finally, we proposed that personal guarantors of loans to a business they are involved in should also be able to complain to the ombudsman service.
Following consultation, we have made some changes to our approach. We explain these changes in more detail in our Policy Statement, but, in summary, we have:
The changes to our approach, which we believe are supported by the consultation feedback we received, will mean around 210,000 additional SMEs will have access to the ombudsman service.
We intend that our changes to ombudsman service’s eligibility criteria will come into force on 1 April 2019. We will confirm the commencement date when we publish final rules, which we intend to do before the end of 2018, following our consideration of the ombudsman service’s business plan and budget.
Making it easier for SMEs to resolve disputes with firms by giving them access to the ombudsman service will help to further our consumer protection objective. At present, many SMEs are likely to struggle to resolve disputes with firms as they do not have the necessary financial management and legal resources. These SMEs may therefore be unable to pursue redress when firms have treated them poorly.
Together with this Policy Statement with near-final rules, we have published Consultation Paper CP18/31, which proposes changes to the limit on the amount of compensation the ombudsman service can require firms to pay when it upholds a complaint. Notably, we are proposing that the limit for complaints about acts or omissions by firms after 1 April 2019 (the date we propose the limit comes into force) should be increased from £150,000 to £350,000.
This Policy Statement will primarily be of interest to:
Firms should note the Handbook changes in the Policy Statement and adapt their practices accordingly.