Here, James discusses how we're trialling the permanent implementation of our ‘proactively settled’ complaint category.
He talks about how we're enabling quicker, earlier complaint resolution, building data and insight to inform our next steps after the trial.
We’ve long worked with financial businesses to identify complaints that have the potential to be resolved early and proactively.
But we know there’s a perception that the way we record outcomes doesn’t help to encourage early settlement. Our twice-yearly complaints data reports on just two categories – change in outcome and no change in outcome.
With this in mind, and with timeliness an operational priority, from November 2021 to March 2022 we introduced a third category in our complaints data – proactively settled. Eligible complaints in this category didn’t contribute to a firm’s uphold rate.
I’ve written previously about the progress we made. Ultimately it led to around 100 financial businesses making nearly 7,000 offers to resolve complaints, helping complainants get fair answers quicker.
Making the category an ongoing feature
As a result of the progress made, a range of stakeholders said that we should consider making the category an ongoing feature of our reporting. We agreed that it would make early settlement far more transparent.
So, after consulting earlier this year (PDF 322KB), we’re trialling a proactively settled category from April 2023 to March 2024.
The aim is to give financial businesses more flexibility to resolve cases early, leading to faster and more dynamic outcomes for consumers.
While we did get lots of positive feedback throughout the consultation, stakeholders highlighted risks that we need to monitor and manage. During the trial, we’ll continue to speak to stakeholders, sharing the successes and challenges we face.
What counts as a proactively settled complaint?
A complaint counts as proactively settled if:
- The business makes an offer to settle the complaint within 14 days of us telling the business we’ve moved a complaint to investigation.
- The business notifies us within 14 days of us telling the business we’ve moved the complaint to investigation that it’s going to make an offer. It needs to make the offer within 21 days of the complaint moving to investigation.
If the consumer doesn’t accept the offer, or the offer’s made outside of the timeframes set out above, the complaint won’t count as proactively settled.
It also won’t count as proactively settled if the financial business makes an offer directly to the consumer after we move the case to investigation. It must come through us, otherwise we’ll record it as a change in outcome.
Making sure that proactive offers are fair and reasonable
Crucially, we’ll assess whether we think an offer is a fair resolution to the complaint before contacting the consumer. We’ll expect the financial business to be able to explain why it’s fair, giving us relevant evidence to support its decision.
If we don’t think the offer is fair, we’ll tell the consumer. They can still choose to accept the offer, but if they don’t, we’ll continue our investigation.
This helps to prevent unfair offers from being made, reassuring consumers that the resolution is reasonable.
How have financial businesses been proactively settling complaints?
We’ve already seen financial firms making offers that will count as proactively settled in our complaints data, helping consumers get a resolution quickly.
For example, a bank’s elderly customer was tricked by a fraudster into thinking someone had been using her debit card and that her money was in danger. They told her to withdraw and move her savings and not tell anyone.
The consumer complained to us after receiving the bank’s final response. The consumer’s representative said the bank should have seen this was out of character. They said the bank should have realised the consumer was a victim of a fraud and asked more questions.
Although the bank didn’t agree it made an error, it made a proactive offer to settle the complaint within six days of us moving it to investigation.
The consumer accepted the offer and was grateful for the efforts made and how quickly the situation was resolved.
The resolution was recorded as proactively settled and won’t count towards the bank’s change in outcome rate.
If you’re a financial firm, read more about how we handle complaints, including what we look at when we consider proactive settlement.
Otherwise, if you have any further questions, get in touch with our Business Support Hub or speak to your usual contact at the Financial Ombudsman Service.