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Complaints Commissioner: ‘FCA should be less defensive’

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The Complaints Commissioner has criticised the FCA for adopting a defensive attitude when handling complaints and for failing to admit its shortcomings in “awkward” cases.

The Complaints Commisioner reviews complaints against the FCA, the FSA, the Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority after firms have been through the relevant regulator’s own complaints process.

In its annual report, tabled before Parliament yesterday, Complaints Commissioner Antony Townsend says the FCA dealt with the majority of complaints competently and fairly.

But he adds: “I have seen examples of an unwillingness to face up to and admit shortcomings, and delays in dealing with “awkward” cases. There has also been a tendency to find reasons for excluding cases from the complaints scheme in circumstances where, in my view, they should not have been excluded.”

The commissioner dealt with 139 complaints against the FCA and its predecessor the FSA in the 12 months to 31 March.

The report says in 13 per cent of the 60 concluded FCA cases, the commissioner overturned the FCA’s decision in whole or in part. In a quarter of those cases Townsend made suggestions for improvement or criticised elements of the complaint handling.

Townsend says: “The FCA must resist the tendency to become introspective and defensive. The complaints scheme must be seen for what it is: a tool to put things right, a means to learn from mistakes, and a system to enable complainants and others to have confidence that the organisation is effective and fair. It is not a narrow and legalistic process to manage the litigious.”

The commissioner made three suggestions for improvement to the FCA: that it must adequately resource its complaints handling team, that the complaints team must have appropriate confidence, authority and political backing, and that the regulator should pay more attention to complaints handling deadlines.

The FCA responds: “In his report, the commissioner has made some important observations which we take seriously. Separately, the commissioner has also suggested improvements to the current scheme. We will be considering these suggestions alongside other work that we have underway to ensure that the scheme and our application of it is continuously improving.

“We continually aim to improve how satisfied complainants are with the way they are treated when they make a complaint. Whatever the eventual outcome of the complaint, we want complainants to feel that the issue they have raised has been fully and fairly considered, that they have been kept informed and treated with respect. The commissioner’s scrutiny and recommendations will help us to achieve this.”

The FCA plans, along with the PRA and the Bank of England, to review the complaints scheme, including a public consultation, later in 2016.

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