Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 17:31 UK

Lehman investors demand action

By Simon Gompertz
Working Lunch

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Peter Howard, from the Lehman investors' action group Spirit, talks to the BBC's Working Lunch

Investors who lost their life savings after the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers are on tenterhooks.

Last Friday the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which regulates financial firms, announced it would be "taking action against firms".

But, so far, it has stopped short of forcing them to provide refunds.

The FSA has been investigating the sale of supposedly secure "structured investment" plans which carried a worthless guarantee from Lehman.

But while it has the power to impose fines or force companies to compensate customers, the FSA has refused to clarify its intentions for another month.

One regulation expert, Adam Samuel, commented: "Sadly, what the FSA has done is to say: 'We think these firms have behaved badly, we think you are entitled to compensation, but we are not going to force the firms to do it'."

'Guaranteed'

Nearly 6,000 UK investors face losses amounting to over £100m in total, after banks or financial advisers sold them plans which were offered as "100% capital secure" or "100% protected, or even "guaranteed".

You have a reasonably good chance of winning; that's the implication of the FSA's statement
Adam Samuel, regulation consultant

In the financial world these policies are called structured products, because of the way they combine exposure to stock market gains with the promise of capital security.

Many of the victims were novice investors with a windfall, a legacy or a few thousand pounds to salt away.

Dozens have contacted BBC2's Working Lunch to tell their stories, such as:

• Martin Toon from Mansfield who put in £30,000 gained from an insurance settlement after a motorbike accident.

• Sarah Moorshead from Hampshire who is trying to get back a £50,000 redundancy payment.

• Bill Moist, from Chester-le-Street, who was persuaded by his bank to invest £200,000 raised from selling his business, on the grounds that it would be safer than a bank account.

Compensation?

In May, the FSA raised hopes that a blanket compensation scheme would be put together.

It directed the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) to stop considering individual complaints while it looked for a "more wide-ranging solution".

Then expectations were raised further after some financial firms appeared to buckle, offering full compensation to a handful of investors.

But now the Ombudsman has been told to start re-work on Lehman complaints, prompting the fear among investors that any redress could be piecemeal.

Adam Samuel points out that the regulator could still force individual firms to compensate groups of customers.

But in the meantime he urges anyone who thinks they might have lost out to do something about it.

"The advice to consumers is to get your complaint in to the Ombudsman as soon as possible, if you have already complained to the firm and if you haven't complained to the firm, to do so now," he says.

"You have a reasonably good chance of winning; that's the implication of the FSA's statement," he added.



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