“Super ombudsman' may weaken complaints system

The plan to create a new financial services “super-ombudsman” could lead to the sort of formal court procedures and lawyer involvement in complaints that the ombudsmen were set up to avoid, investment ombudsman Peter Dean has warned.

The Financial Services Authority set up a steering group in April to bring all financial services ombudsmen into one office at the FSA.

But all eight ombudsmen have complained that the European Convention on Human Rights will force the new office to set up a formal hearing system and have all sides represented by lawyers.

Many of the current ombudsmen schemes have won praise from the press – and even from some lawyers – for the fast, efficient way they deal with complaints and their accessibility to the general public.

Dean, a former solicitor and company secretary of RTZ, launching his annual report this month, said: “Because the new scheme will be compulsory for regulated firms and is to issue binding decisions, it will be a requirement under the convention to make provision for oral and public hearings, cross-examination and so on. In other words the very apparatus of a formal court procedure which the current ombudsmen schemes have been set up to avoid.”

He also warned that there was a risk that “the skills, focus and user-friendliness of the current schemes will be dissipated in a large, uniform scheme”.

He added: “Perhaps I am especially sensitive to this risk because mine is the smallest of the current schemes and, I think, all the more beautiful for that! Everybody in this office cares about the cases and I am myself concerned with each of them. We lack the time and scope for indulgence in office politics or bureaucratic wrangles.”