In its newsletter Making Assumptions out today, chief executive and chief ombudsman Natalie Ceeney explained that age can be a “particularly relevant” factor when deciding on a complaint in order to avoid making snap decisions based on assumptions.
She wrote: “We know from the cases we see that older people experience many of the same financial problems as younger people. But we also know that someone’s age can be particularly relevant in certain situations.
“It’s less about ‘noting someone’s age’ and more about listening to, and taking account of, where they’re coming from – their understanding of the situation, what their intentions were, what they did to influence things.
“The better the understanding we have of what might be relevant, the less likely we are to fall into the trap of making assumptions – and the more likely we are to make a decision that’s fair.”
The FOS explained its approach to age-related decision making by means of a case study in which two 73-year-old people were advised by a bank to invest their £40,000 savings in a capital guaranteed multi-index equity bond deposit plan that would oblige them to keep their money invested for six years.
The husband was in poor health and died 15 months after making the investment. The wife made a complaint to the bank and asked it to cancel the long-term plan but was told that she had not been given inappropriate advice.
The FOS ruled in favour of the couple and told the bank to put the complainant back into the position she would have been in prior to taking the advice.
The FOS said: “The bank’s own records showed that Mr and Mrs W were not experienced investors. We took the view that the couple’s age should also have prompted the bank to make sure the couple had understood they would not necessarily receive their investment back in full – if they did not keep the bond for six years.
“Mr W’s medical records showed that he was using a wheelchair at the time of the sale – and that, given his particular medical history, he had already exceeded his life expectancy by four years. So we thought it was unlikely that Mr and Mrs W would have confirmed that they were both in “good health” when the adviser had asked them.
“We decided that it should have been clear to the bank that it needed to ask Mr and Mrs W more questions about their health to get an accurate picture of their circumstances.
“Taking all this into account, we concluded that the bank had not given Mr and Mrs W appropriate advice.”