Banks must do more to help vulnerable customers
The Financial Ombudsman (FOS) needs to get tougher on high street banks that play the system on 'financial hardship' cases.
The British Bankers' Association has a voluntary code that says that banks should act "quickly and sympathetically" when things that go wrong and consider all cases of financial difficulty "sympathetically and positively".
Under Financial Services Authority (FSA) rules, banks are also supposed to treat hardship claims sympathetically.
However, the FOS says it has received complaints that this is not happening. Last month, it wrote to banks to ask them to improve the way they treat financial hardship cases and "ensure that you do all you can to avoid unnecessary referrals of cases to the Ombudsman service by promoting the early and fair resolution of your customers' complaints".
I get so frustrated when I read that banks have only been 'asked' to ensure that they do what they should be doing as of right.
Clearly the banks don't think it is in their interest to help out on financial hardship cases, even though it is in the BBA voluntary code and the 'Guidance for Subscribers code'. The longer banks can take to fob people off, the less it will impact on their business, as it costs them money.
There are too many voluntary codes and ways around the system for these banks. What I would like to see is the FOS, the Office of Fair Trading and the FSA to put on their steel toe caps on and go in hard, punishing banks if they are unfit to serve consumers.
In cases where the FOS can prove a bank has broken the guidelines, it should fine them heavily.
I have been watching the ITV programme 'Seven days on the breadline'. Instead of celebrities appearing on this show it should feature Angela Knight CBE, the chief executive of the British Bankers' Association, and a few other bank bureaucrats, so that they can see how much people are suffering because of the stance the banks are taking.
Perhaps they may begin to understand the stress and misery they are causing by their unwillingness to help those vulnerable and desperate people.
The Financial Services Authority is an independent non-governmental body, given a wide range of rule-making, investigatory and enforcement powers in order to meet its four statutory objectives: market confidence (maintaining confidence in the UK financial system), financial stability, consumer protection and the reduction of financial crime. The FSA receives no government funding and is funded entirely by the firms it regulates, but is accountable to the Treasury and, ultimately, parliament.
If you’ve have a complaint about a financial service product you have bought but the company you bought it from refuses to resolve your problem after eight weeks, the Ombudsman can help. The Ombudsman will investigate and resolve the matter. The Ombudsman is independent and its service is free to consumers. The Ombudsman may find in the company’s favour but consumers don’t have accept its decision and are always free to go to court instead. But if they do accept an Ombudsman’s decision, it is binding both on them and on the business.