In his last foreword to ombudsman news before he stepped down as chief ombudsman (issue 80), Walter Merricks looked back over the last ten years. He noted how, while remaining true to its founding aims and objectives, the ombudsman service has adapted to a growth in workload that no one foresaw at the outset.
Recently, that growth in cases has accelerated, made worse by the poor way in which some financial businesses handle complaints, as shown in the complaints data we published this September.
For a while, case numbers grew faster than it was possible for us to recruit and train new case-handlers. Although we continued to resolve cases much more quickly than the courts, prioritising complaints that involved financial hardship necessarily meant that some other types of cases had to take their turn.
However, many of the 200 additional case-handlers we have recruited and trained over recent months are now up to speed, and can take on cases increasingly quickly - so things will speed up over the coming months. This will have a particular impact on those few financial businesses and consumers who have taken advantage of our flexible process by delaying unreasonably in responding to our requests for information - thereby unfairly disadvantaging the other party, and affecting our ability to get on with cases.
We will continue to give both sides to each complaint a reasonable time to provide information, and we will of course take account of genuine difficulties. But parties who delay unreasonably will increasingly find that, after giving fair notice, we will decide cases on the basis of what we have actually received - rather than allowing them any further time to supply what we have asked for.
Looking ahead to next year, we expect that our workload will continue to grow. This is confirmed not only by our own detailed projections but also by what we hear from industry and consumer bodies. We will continue to build our capacity in order to respond flexibly to this challenge.
Our detailed expectations for the coming year, and the plans that we are making to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of our service, will be set out in our corporate plan and budget - to be published, as usual, in January.
chief ombudsman (interim)
ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.
The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.