corporate plan and 2009/10 budget
accessibility and transparency
The Financial Ombudsman Service's key roles are:
- resolving complaints in a way that is impartial, fair, accessible, timely, informal, efficient and free to consumers - and awarding fair redress where appropriate;
- encouraging the resolution of complaints before they reach the service, by providing clear information about our approach; and
- encouraging the elimination of the sources of financial complaints, by providing clear information about the lessons learned from our work.
We are committed to tackling barriers that might deter or disadvantage anyone in their dealings with us. We have already taken a wide range of significant steps to make ourselves accessible, but we continue to actively seek ways to further improve our accessibility.
We also attach considerable importance to being an appropriately open and transparent organisation, and we actively seek ways to further improve our transparency. We already publish extensive information about what we do and how we operate.
our strategic approach to accessibility and transparency
In policy statements published in July 2008 we set out plans to develop our approach to accessibility and transparency. Some of these plans involve expanding or modifying things we already do, whilst others involve new activities. Many will take time to implement fully, not least because of the resource implications, but they set our direction of travel on accessibility and transparency for the next few years.
On accessibility, our plans include:
- investing in awareness-raising where appropriate, and continuing to develop our website to ensure that it is user-friendly, welcoming and accessible;
- commissioning specialist research into the advantages and disadvantages for different users of various types of low-cost and no-cost phone numbers for our consumer helpline;
- reinforcing the message that we will call users back if they are worried about the cost of a phone call;
- extending the opening hours of our customer contact division, and enhancing training for front-line staff in early dispute-resolution;
- enhancing our web-based service so that consumers can draw our attention to complaint enquiries around the clock;
- researching the extent to which we could do away with a signed complaint form;
- researching whether further assistance or follow-up is required by consumers who contact us before their complaint has been submitted to the financial business;
- piloting an in-house scheme to 'hand-hold' consumers with specific needs or disabilities through the complaints process;
- keeping developments in the claims-management sector under review and maintaining close links with the regulator;
- seeking input from a range of smaller businesses and their representatives, and promoting our technical advice desk more widely, particularly among these businesses;
- working with a wider range of consumer advisers and consumer advocates from the not-for-profit sector;
- continuing to identify complaints that are frivolous or vexatious, and making statistics available;
- increasing the sophistication of our arrangements for prioritising particular cases and being clearer about any expected delays; and
- considering the cost implications of providing calculations in cases where we currently make formulaic compensation awards.
On transparency, our plans include:
- reinforcing messages about our independence, key roles, aims and objectives;
- publishing a record of our board meetings;
- publishing data on cases received and uphold rates relating to individual businesses;
- developing an on-line digest of our processes and approach;
- supporting an on-line digest by publishing selected decisions;
- encouraging academic study of our processes, approach and decisions;
- reviewing our arrangements for liaison with industry and consumer bodies;
- developing ombudsman news as a gateway to this enhanced information;
- reviewing the wider-implications process - the procedure for ensuring co-operation between the ombudsman service and the relevant regulator where issues arise which could involve overlap between the bodies;
- increasing the transparency of our dealings with relevant regulators;
- strengthening our existing quality and consistency systems;
- keeping our funding model under review; and
- continuing to commission external reviews every three years.
activities under way and completed
In implementing our accessibility and transparency plans, we are working with a discussion group which we have established - comprising industry practitioners and representatives of consumer bodies.
On accessibility, within the constraints of our current budget, we have already:
- continued to commission research on awareness and use of the ombudsman service, including differences in different regions and amongst different groups;
- carried out targeted paid-for advertising aimed at specific hard-to-reach and/or vulnerable groups (where research shows there are lower levels of awareness of the right to complain and of the role of the ombudsman);
- increased the funds available for our website, added additional content (including video content) and extended the range of languages previously covered;
- added a prominent message to our website and consumer leaflet that we will call users back if they are worried about the cost of a phone call, and we continue to remind appropriate users of this;
- started to recruit and train staff in readiness for an extension of the opening hours of our customer contact division;
- pilot-tested an enhanced web-based service so that consumers can draw our attention to complaint enquiries around the clock;
- commissioned research on consumers who remain dissatisfied by a financial business's response to a complaint but do not refer their complaint to the ombudsman service;
- established an in-house operational taskforce dedicated to considering how people with different needs interact with our service - and how we can do more to help them;
- started a pilot project to 'hand-hold' consumers with specific needs or disabilities through the complaints process;
- monitored developments in the claims-management sector and maintained close links with the regulator;
- identified named points of contact for MPs and other elected representatives and also for consumer bodies;
- increased our existing focus on the needs of smaller businesses, including organising a special forum for smaller-business representatives, and providing a special smaller-business resource on our website;
- increased our focus on building relations with 'trusted individuals' in the community, outside the mainstream consumer-advice agencies, and providing a special consumer-adviser resource on our website; and
- reviewed and improved our arrangements for prioritising particular cases and keeping the parties informed of likely progress.
We have also continued a full programme of external-liaison work, including (in the calendar year 2008):
- answering more than 15,500 enquiries to our technical advice desk from financial businesses and consumer advisers;
- taking part in more than 160 conferences, training workshops and events;
- dealing with more than 720 enquiries from parliamentarians and elected representatives;
- handling more than 3,500 calls from the media;
- issuing more than 2,500,000 leaflets and other publications; and
- providing information in more than 25 languages and in a range of formats (including Braille, large-print, cassette tape, CD, "easy read", British Sign Language, audio-clips in mp3-format and video-clips).
On transparency, again within the constraints of our current budget, we have already:
- started to publish on our website summary-minutes of our board meetings, once they have been approved at the following board meeting;
- issued a discussion paper on the implementation of publishing complaint data relating to individual businesses;
- started to develop elements of the on-line digest of our processes and approach, and to talk to legal academics about publishing reports of selected ombudsman decisions;
- launched a review of our arrangements for liaison with industry and consumer bodies, and opened discussions with relevant stakeholders;
- started to review the wider-implications process and the transparency of our communication with relevant regulators;
- commissioned external advice on our quality and consistency systems, started to implement the resulting recommendations and increased the number of our quality-assurance staff; and
- considered the various principles and issues relating to our funding model in producing our proposed 2009/10 budget.