Business

Financial complaints to Ombudsman on the rise

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Image caption Major banking groups feature in the complaints list

The number of complaints made about financial firms to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) rose in the first half of the year.

However, the FOS sided with the consumer in a smaller proportion of resolved cases than previously.

It received 84,212 new complaints, with more than half about five major banks.

One of the biggest banks, Lloyds TSB, headed the list with 12,750 new complaints made about it by customers.

Cases

The FOS saw the total number of complaints made to it rise by 2,076 in the first half of the year compared with the previous six months.

However, with many complaints about unauthorised overdraft charges being ruled out, fewer resolved cases ended with compensation for customers.

In the first six months of 2010, the FOS upheld 44% of complaints in favour of the consumer, compared with 53% in the second half of 2009.

The FOS deals with complaints from people who are unhappy with the way financial firms have dealt with their problems in the first instance.

Some 89% of new cases referred to the financial ombudsman related to 160 specific financial businesses.

Insurance disputes

In the past 18 months, the FOS has been naming and shaming the institutions facing the most complaints.

This list was dominated by the biggest banks.

Five of them - Lloyds, Bank of Scotland, Barclays, HSBC, and Santander - had more than 3,000 complaints each.

As with previous publications of the figures, the FOS accepted that the number of new complaints would be affected by the size of the business.

However, the FOS said it had consulted with a number of experts about how to reflect this in the publication - but they were unable to agree how size should be taken into account.

The data covers the banks' traditional High Street outlets but also their subsidiaries dealing in insurance and investments.

As a result, thousands of complaints were made about the banks' general insurance businesses, as well as about their banking and lending arms.

For example, more than half of the new complaints to Lloyds were about general insurance rather than banking and credit.

A spokeswoman for the Lloyds Banking Group said: "With over 30 million customers, the group has the largest customer base in the UK.

"The vast majority of our customers are happy with the service we provide and this is reflected in the low number of complaints we receive relative to the high number of accounts our customers hold."

Many of the worries about insurance related to the continuing disputes over the sales of payment protection insurance (PPI).

PPI insures people's loan re-payments if they fall ill or lose their jobs.

But, in the past two or three years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of complaints about how these policies were sold, alongside highly critical investigations by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Competition Commission.

Clarity 'needed'

Chief Ombudsman Natalie Ceeney said lessons should be learned from the latest figures.

"The latest set of complaints data shows that some businesses are really committed to ensuring that complaints are handled well, and are used to inform and improve the service they offer their customers," she said.

"However, the complaints data also shows there is still more that some businesses need to do to ensure that complaints are properly investigated and fairly resolved."

The British Bankers' Association, which represents the High Street banks, said: "The UK banking industry manages more than 140 million bank accounts and the biggest banks conduct many billions of transactions each year for customers, so it is important to keep these figures in context.

"The more customers a bank has, the more complaints it is statistically likely to get. And it does not necessarily follow that when customers complain the bank has been at fault. Most customers are satisfied with their bank and their account.

"When things do go wrong and complaints are received, banks seek to resolve these effectively and efficiently to rectify the situation for customers.

"The banks will be discussing with the Ombudsman how these findings can be applied to their own complaints handling processes, and how if necessary they can be improved. Every complaint represents a breakdown in a banking relationship, and the banks are striving to improve the service they provide to their customers."

The level of complaints when the ombudsman found in favour of the consumer ranged from 14% for Clerical Medical Investment Group, which is part of Lloyds Banking Group, to 100% for Eisis, which sells insurance.

Other firms with high uphold rates included Ocean Finance and Mortgages and Wills & Co Stockbrokers, both at 99%, and Black Horse, also part of Lloyds, and Loans.co.uk, part of MBNA, both at 90%.

Consumer rights body Consumer Focus called for more transparency for bank customers.

"There needs to be more clarity about what is going on in the individual cases, and where products or institutions are persistently falling down in order to start addressing the problems," a spokesman said.

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