COVID-19 hits UK Ombudsman services
The Pensions Ombudsman (“PO”), the independent body that investigates complaints about pensions’ administration, has announced that it will not be able to process any new complaints for the foreseeable future. The COVID – 19 lockdown has meant that the PO can no longer collect or deal with post, although phone lines remain open between 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m on weekdays.
The upshot is that the PO will for the time being at least only focus on existing enquiries and complaints through its staff working from home. The PO warns that any post or emails received after 24 March 2020 will have to be resubmitted once it can return to a full service.
The PO is clearly aware of the impact of a reduction of services on older complaints and the PO’s rules regarding time limits: “We would like to reassure you that, wherever possible, we will be using our discretion to expand our time limit of three years for those applicants affected by this period of restricted service”
The Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”), the organisation that works to resolve disputes between consumers, SMEs and the financial services industry, has also been hit by COVID 19 but less severely than the PO it seems.
The FOS has said that it is also unable to receive post and is asking people to submit complaints by email or online form. Phone lines remain open but only between midday and 3.00 p.m. each day with the FOS asking people to call in only if they are facing severe ill health or financial hardship.
The FOS has also advised that it may take longer than usual to process and resolve complaints:
“We were already experiencing a high demand for our service; the coronavirus outbreak will continue to impact our timescales. If you’ve sent us details of your complaint or emailed us with an enquiry it may take us up to 4 weeks to let you know we’ve received it – although this can be up to 2 months for a PPI complaint.”