Advisers claim FOS biased towards complainants

In a recent IFA survey, 83% thought the financial ombudsman treated them as “guilty until proven innocent”

UK advisers are concerned the Financial Ombudsman Service (Fos) has a bias towards complainants and they are calling for change, according to the results of a survey by Panacea Adviser.

The survey, which ran between June and July 2018 and attracted 212 responses, posed 15 questions concerning the Fos.

A key finding of the survey was that 66% believed that the Fos had helped complainants create a complaint where none existed.

One person who responded to the survey said: “The Fos demonstrate the view that all complainants are innocent and honest and that the industry is corrupt and incompetent. So, if they can dig into a complaint and find an alternative angle they will do it”.

Guilty mindset

Further, the survey found that 83% thought the Fos rules and its process placed an adviser or firm in a “guilty until you prove your innocence” position from outset.

“All of the cases I have read, or been involved in, seem to work on that basis – ‘prove that you didn’t do it’.”

“I have yet to see an initial complaint letter which does not make the adviser look guilty, otherwise there would be no complaint. It has to be, therefore, that the adjudicator is biased towards the complainant until the defence is provided,” one respondee said.

While another said: “Absolutely. To the point that I have decided to stop investment advising in the next 12 months. I now consider the risks too high. All of the cases I have read, or been involved in, seem to work on that basis – ‘prove that you didn’t do it’.”

Further key findings

Other key findings of the survey included:

  • 55% of respondents saying they had no idea as to who the Fos is accountable to.
  • 72% had experienced false or manufactured claims with a view to obtaining compensation .
  • 95% felt that the adviser should have the same rights as the complainant to appeal to the courts when unhappy with a decision rather than an than expensive judicial review.

Panacea Adviser said a copy of the results has been sent to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Treasury Select Committee and the Fos.

It has only received a response from the FCA, who thanked them for sending the findings, saying: “It makes for interesting and occasionally provocative reading”.

Fos responds

A Fos spokesperson told Portfolio Adviser sister publication International Adviser that it takes feedback from its stakeholders seriously.

“We’re keen to learn where we can do better, and so regularly meet with financial advisers around the country.

“But just 0.5% of the complaints we saw last year were about advisers, and the number of these complaints we’ve been asked to resolve has dropped significantly,” the spokesperson said.

Further, the spokesperson noted that two in three cases concerning financial advisers go against the customer.

They also said the Fos got 1,678 complaints against financial advisers in 2017–18, compared to 2,197 in the previous financial year.

Pensions remain the most complained about product against financial advisers with 451 complaints made, followed by mortgages (118), packaged investment products (103) and payment protection insurance (56).

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