Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 10:36 UK

Money gripes treated 'dismally'

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Some financial services firms discourage complaints, the FOS says

An increasing number of people who complain to financial services firms are treated in a "dismal" fashion, says the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The Ombudsman, Walter Merricks, said some firms were handling complaints with a "weary cynicism".

He said his own research showed that an unhelpful approach was deterring almost half of all complainants from taking their complaints further.

His comments came in the latest edition of the FOS publication Ombudsman News.

"We are seeing a growing number of cases where customers who have complained to a financial business appear to have experienced treatment that is nothing short of dismal," Mr Merricks said.

"Some in the financial services industry - currently facing significant business challenges - appear to be taking the jaundiced view that having a large number of complaining customers is just an unfortunate fact of life.

"So they seem to be geared up simply to dispose of complaints at minimum cost - and with minimal attention to the individual facts and circumstances," he added.

Unhappy customers

One knock-on effect, Mr Merricks said, was that customers with a complaint felt angry, ignored and let down by the time they took their complaint to the FOS.

Other unhappy customers simply gave up.

"Our research suggests that almost half of consumers who had an unresolved complaint against a financial business were deterred from pursuing it further by the fact that the business had such an unhelpful approach," said Merricks.

In the past year the FOS has seen a large surge in complaints about the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI).

Last September, the FOS said it had "very severe concerns" that many complainants had been fobbed off by their banks.

It asked the Financial Services Authority to bring the banks to heel over the way they had been dismissing complaints from their customers.

Since then the Competition Commission has proposed stiff restrictions on the sale of PPI policies.

The Finance and Leasing Association, some of whose members sell PPI policies, said its members were being swamped by complaints from claims management firms.

"These complaints are being submitted without a proper assessment of their validity and many are based on template letters," it said.

"Many claims management companies are playing a numbers game and sending large volumes in the hope that a proportion will result in a payout.

"This is slowing down the process of getting help to those who have more urgent and genuine grievances," it added.

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