FCA bans premium rate telephone numbers for customer complaints

UK financial regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been making some serious attempts at not just improving regulation and protecting financial consumers, but also at improving the customer experience with financial institutions.

The FCA’s latest steps are aimed at the way licensed financial firms in the UK handle customer complaints.

Under the new proposals, financial services firms will no longer be able to use premium rate telephone numbers for customers, as part of a series of proposals from the FCA on changes to the rules on complaint handling and post-sale telephone calls.

The proposals follow a FCA thematic review on complaint handing, and look to reform the way complaints will be dealt with and reported. The changes are now open to consultation.

Christopher Woolard, director of policy, risk and research, said:

Consumers want a simple way to complain that does not leave them out of pocket. And they want to be assured that their concerns will be dealt with fairly and quickly.

Under the current rules, complaints that are dealt with by the end of the next business day do not require a letter to be sent to the customer. For these quickly-resolved complaints, if dissatisfied, the customer could have to wait up to eight weeks before being able to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The recent thematic work showed the one day deadline could lead to some unintended consequences, with consumers often reasonably expecting a complaint to be dealt with quickly and, where appropriate, informally. The FCA is now proposing to extend the period during which complaints can be resolved without the need for a formal letter. Firms will be allowed up to three business days to deal with less complex complaints. This will help avoid unnecessary procedure and ensure that consumers have matters resolved faster.

In addition, complainants will be able to refer all cases to the ombudsman service immediately after receiving the firm’s response. Firms will also have to inform customers, in writing, that they are able to take their complaint to the ombudsman service if they are dissatisfied with the resolution.

The FCA proposes to improve transparency by requiring firms to report all complaints to the FCA, not just those where final response letters are issued, as is the case at present. Firms will also have to analyse and report the causes and categories of complaints, which will be published alongside details about the size of firms, to provide greater context and allow for comparison of their performance.

The FCA is also consulting on amendments to the complaints handling rules to implement the Alternative Dispute Resolution Directive (ADRD).

The FCA is proposing to keep current time limits for referring complaints to the ombudsman service, as they comply with the Directive and provide a sufficient level of consumer protection. However, the rules will be amended so firms will be required to tell consumers when they respond to complaints if the firm will consent to the ombudsman service considering a complaint made to the ombudsman service outside the relevant time limits.

In addition, the FCA is continuing its work to consider the case for a 15 year ‘long stop’ on complaints to the ombudsman service. Implementing the ADRD in the way the FCA is consulting on would not preclude the introduction of a ‘long stop’ should it be decided it was appropriate to do so in the future.

In its recent review of how complaints are handled, the FCA found that while some improvements and innovations have already been made firms could and should be doing more. In particular, firms did not always consider the impact on consumers when designing and implementing processes and procedures. These proposals help address this concern.

To see the complete FCA release on the proposals click here.

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