Priorities for firms
The FCA recognises that firms will have staff who have been furloughed or who are working remotely and therefore response times to complaints may be delayed. They have clarified the priorities for firms are:
1. Paying consumers who have accepted offers of redress;
2. The prompt and fair resolution of complaints from:
- consumers whose circumstances make them especially vulnerable to harm if their complaint is not resolved promptly and fairly
- micro-enterprises and small businesses who are likely to face serious financial difficulties if their complaint is not resolved promptly and fairly.
3. Sending timely holding responses to those complainants outlined above where their complaints cannot be resolved promptly.
Where a firm cannot deliver these three priorities adequately and effectively through home working, then the FCA consider it could be appropriate for the firm to maintain the minimal physical onsite presence, so long as the site is configured for social distancing in line with Government guidelines.
The FCA also do not expect to see any drop off in the quality of complaint handling and still expect relevant obligations to be met, such as:
- Investigating complaints thoroughly and impartially, and paying appropriate redress or making other appropriate remediation as required
- Firms must continue to make information about their complaints procedures and Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) available to customers
- Enable consumers to submit complaints – although the FCA acknowledge there may be limitations on some channels and priority may need to be given to customers who have limited channels of communication
- Acknowledge receipt of complaints
Firms are reminded that if they have material difficulties complying with DISP 1.6, or other complaint handling requirements, they should inform their usual supervisory contact or contact email@example.com, to tell the FCA the steps it is taking to manage and address its non-compliance.
During this health crisis, in addition to those previously treated as vulnerable, other consumers may now also be vulnerable due to poor health, low financial or emotional resilience, life events such as bereavement or divorce and low capability (including poor digital (the ability to communicate and transact online), language and cognitive skills), as well as low financial capability. The FCA has asked consumers to inform firms if they fall into one of those now vulnerable categories when making complaints and warned firms to be alert to a customer's possible change of circumstances when dealing with them.
Claims Management Companies
Specific guidance is also given to claims management companies (CMCs) to:
- Allow firms a reasonable amount of extra time, beyond eight weeks, to give a final response before referring complaints to the Ombudsman Service
- Work with FOS expectations to ensure best outcomes for customers
- Maintain dialogue with firms to understand the challenges they face in respect of subject access requests, and to consider any guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)
- Consider clients circumstances when collecting fees.
To discuss any of these issues in more detail, please contact Andrew Jacobs.
Author: James Kelly