FSA fails to use mystery shoppers

Hector Sants
Image caption Hector Sants said in March 2010 that the FSA would make more use of mystery shoppers

The BBC has found that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has not used mystery shoppers to protect consumers for at least a year and a half.

Responding to a Freedom Of Information request, the FSA said no mystery shopping exercises had been carried out since March 2010.

At that time, the FSA chief executive, Hector Sants, said he would step up mystery shopping and onsite visits.

In reply the FSA said it was a tactic used "in the right circumstances".

Consumer groups have reacted with surprise to the news.

'It is a little surprising that the FSA hasn't placed more of an emphasis on mystery shopping, which can be a useful tool in identifying consumer detriment," said Sarah Brooks, director of financial services at Consumer Focus.

"We accept that mystery shopping may not provide the hard evidence needed for enforcement action. However, it can act like a canary in a mineshaft - an indicator of problems."

Mr Sants's 2010 announcement that the FSA would make more use of mystery shoppers, a common technique amongst consumer groups, came in the wake of widespread concern at the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.

The FSA faced criticism at the time for not using the technique more routinely as part of its day-to-day operations.

A spokesperson for the FSA said on Wednesday: "Mystery shopping is just one way the FSA can spot poor practice in the market place. It remains a tactic that we will use in the right circumstances."

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