Now that the government and the opposition parties have set out their policies on financial reform, we know what each would do with the financial regulatory system. But so far as the ombudsman service is concerned, the news seems to be 'no change' – with no one proposing to tamper with our role.
The Conservatives say that the ombudsman service plays an important role in consumer protection, as it provides a means of resolving consumer disputes. They see the ombudsman working closely with their proposed Consumer Protection Agency – which would take over the consumer functions of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the consumer-credit responsibilities of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The Lib-Dems have made it clear they have no interest in institutional reform – so presumably that means no change for us.
But it’s the government’s proposals for ‘collective redress’ that present the most interest for those of us concerned with complaints and redress in areas where there has been widespread consumer detriment in recent years.
The government's proposals say:
Where many consumers are affected in a similar way, there should be routes to collective redress that can deal with claims more efficiently, reduce the time that claimants may have to wait, and reduce the volume of individual cases dealt with by the courts or the Financial Ombudsman Service.
This would mean enhanced powers for the FSA and a right of collective action in the courts. These proposals echo thoughts I outlined in our most recent annual review.