Why do you think there have been a rise in the number of complaints about lenders’ SVRs?
Overall complaints to the Ombudsman service about mortgages have decreased over the past year. But the fact that the base rate is low has led some consumers to question why they are paying more on their lender’s standard mortgage rate. Consumers have complained to us about standard rates set by lenders, rates not tracking changes in the base rate, the speed of changes made to variable rates, and the removal of rate collars by some lenders in response to exceptional market conditions.
Payment protection insurance complaints are also up – is it because consumers recognise the need for protection now and are paying more attention to it?
In the majority of PPI complaints referred to us, consumers are saying they should not have been sold the payment protection insurance policy. This is either on the basis that they didn’t know they had it, didn’t understand how much it cost, or wouldn’t have been eligible to claim under the policy. At the moment around a third of cases the Ombudsman service receives are about PPI and we’re upholding around 90% of them. But there are signs that some financial businesses are improving the way they handle PPI complaints and we hope that this continues.
Has their been a rise in complaints from claims firms?
We have seen a slight increase in the proportion of complaints by claims-management firms. We prefer to hear from consumers in their own words – the Ombudsman will reach the same outcome on a case whether a consumer uses a claims management firm or not.
What do you think of the coalition government? Will it mean changes to FOS?
We don’t think that a change in government will affect FOS directly. All of the main parties are on record as saying we do a valuable job. And as we are independent, if there is a change in the Financial Services Authority’s structure it shouldn’t directly affect us.
Can you explain a little more about the Consumer Protection Committee that FOS wants to create with the FSA and the Office of Fair Trading?
We’re committed to working with regulators to identify any risks with the potential to turn into widespread problems. To a large extent this builds on the structures already in place, but there will be more emphasis on identifying issues early on. This may be before complaints have been made to the Ombudsman or where it has received only a few cases.
Interview by Christine Toner