In response to a query from a financial adviser, who had received a letter from the FOS saying a customer had made a complaint, the FOS clarified it did not open cases unless the complained about party has been informed of the gripe first.
It also said it would only proceed to officially open cases – and start charging firms for the process – if the customer is unhappy with the firm’s response.
The FOS charges firms for the cost of investigating a claim regardless of the outcome. But it does not charge it for the first 25 claims brought against it in a year.
It emerged in September the FOS ordered a Corporate Chartered financial planning business to compensate a client who was recommended to invest in ARM.
The service also reported a rise in the number of pension claims it is receiving but posted a drop in their uphold rate.
The ombudsman explained in its latest newsletter: “If a consumer wants us to, we can write to a business to explain why they’re not happy. But this doesn’t mean we’ve taken on the case.
“We reassured the IFA that we wouldn’t take things further until he’d had the chance to look into his customer’s concerns – and then only if the customer wasn’t happy.”
The FOS also urged firms to use its helpline facility or attend outreach events to discuss complaints brought against them before they are officially opened by the FOS.
The helpline’s team, which consists of “experts, with experience of handling complaints ourselves”, is able to have informal chats about how the ombudsman might view a situation and what the next steps could be, the FOS said.
“We are here to give a healthy dose of pragmatism. We’ll be upfront if we think a business has handled something badly – or if we think they’ve already done enough,” said head of outreach David Bainbridge.
In June interim chief executive Tony Boorman warned providers are treating complainants as numbers, not people and that he wants firms presenting their case to the ombudsman to “recount a story”.
Earlier in the year the ombudsman warned firms they need to be “fair from the outset” when handling complaints and “ticking all the boxes from a compliance point of view” may not be enough to win in a complaint case.