Financial complaints to ombudsman rise by 15%

Shredded documents Banks are also also publishing their own complaints figures

Complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) rose by 15% in the second half of 2010 compared with the first half of the year.

Lloyds Banking Group, the UK's largest bank, topped the complaints list.

The figures cover banks, insurance and investment firms, and show the ombudsman received 97,237 new queries.

The FOS upheld 53% of complaints in favour of consumers in the second half of 2010, up from 44% in the previous six months.

That increased success rate for complainants was identical to the rate recorded in the second half of 2009.

The complaints the FOS dealt with were those that customers pursued after receiving an unsatisfactory response from their bank in the first instance.

Separately, the UK's banks have revealed that they are still being deluged with hundreds of thousands of fresh complaints from their customers.

In line with the requirements of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to publish figures every six months, they show that in the second half of last year, compared to the first half:

  • At Barclays, total complaints fell by 4% to 294,891
  • At Santander, total complaints fell by 20% to 195,475
  • At HSBC, total complaints fell 1% to 80,794
  • At RBS, total complaints rose by 41% to 53,806
  • At NatWest (part of the wider RBS group), complaints rose by 41% to 118,765

Last week Lloyds revealed that its total complaints had risen by 14% in the second half of last year to 330,000.

The data for the entire financial services industry will be collated by the FSA and will be published at the end of March.

Worries

One factor driving the bank complaints higher was the continuing upsurge in the number about the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI).

Most complained about groups

  • Lloyds Banking Group: 22,181 (22,420 in previous six months)
  • Royal Bank of Scotland: 8,644 (6,469)
  • Barclays: 8,256 (9,215)
  • HSBC: 8,238 (4,031)
  • Santander: 6,759 (5,372)

Source: Financial Ombudsman Service. New complaints July - Dec 2010 (new complaints in Jan - June 2010 in brackets)

Many continue to be turned down by the banks, which in turn prompts customers to pursue their complaints to the FOS.

Thus PPI problems accounted for more than half of the new complaints received by the ombudsman in the second half of the year.

"These figures reaffirm the need for a fundamental overhaul to the way many banks pay their staff," said Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith.

"When bonus structures reward staff for selling products which may be unsuitable, is it any wonder that we are seeing this level of complaints?

"Nowhere is this clearer than in the handling of PPI complaints, where the ombudsman's uphold rate in favour of the consumer points to banks rejecting thousands of legitimate complaints," he added.

'Regrettable'

The largest banking groups headed the complaints list.

Start Quote

Banks need to pull their socks up when it comes to complaint handling.”

End Quote Oliver Morgans Consumer Focus

There were 22,181 complaints about Lloyds Banking Group, of which 12,234 were specifically about Lloyds TSB - the most of any single business.

Martin Dodd, customer services director at Lloyds, said that the group had conducted a thorough overhaul of its complaints procedures.

"Our customers tell us the two areas we need to improve are the length of time it takes to resolve complaints and the perception that the bank is not taking sufficient ownership of them. We are committed to getting this right," he said.

Five financial services brands - Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, HSBC and Santander UK - had more than 6,000 complaints about them received by the ombudsman.

"The latest set of complaints data continues to show that while some financial businesses are improving the way they handle their customers' complaints, some regrettably are not," said chief ombudsman Natalie Ceeney.

"Taking the trouble to handle complaints well is an important part of a business's ongoing relationship with its customers - and it is the key to providing really excellent customer service."

Size matters

The ombudsman accepted that the size of the business would affect the level of complaints.

However, when it consulted with experts on how this should be taken into account in the figures, they disagreed, so the figures are published in their raw form with no adjustment for size.

Oliver Morgans, financial services expert at watchdog Consumer Focus, said that customers should be given clearer information that told them the ombudsman - a third-party independent adjudicator - could take on their case if they were unhappy with the company's response.

"Rising complaints and the unacceptably high number of cases upheld by the ombudsman show that banks need to pull their socks up when it comes to complaint handling," he said.

"Banks need to invest more resources into better complaints handling and dramatically improve the customer service they offer."

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