Judge dismisses complaint over delays at Financial Services Ombudsman

Watchdog’s output is ‘almost heroic’ given its workload, says Mr Justice Gerard Hogan

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the Financial Services Ombudsman’s output was “truly admirable, almost heroic” and the “only wonder” was that delays were not longer. Photograph: Collins

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the Financial Services Ombudsman’s output was “truly admirable, almost heroic” and the “only wonder” was that delays were not longer. Photograph: Collins

Thu, May 8, 2014, 22:28

The high number of complaints and a lack of resources has contributed to delays in the Financial Services Ombudsman dealing with complaints, a High Court judge has found.

Against that background, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said he would dismiss David O’Brien’s claim that the delay since October 2012 in deciding his complaint against PTSB Finance was inexcusable.

The office of the FSO received 8,135 complaints in 2012, and still gets an average of between 500 and 600 new complaints monthly due to the “financial calamities” besetting the State since 2008, he noted, and has just four case officers to investigate them.

In that context, its output, in terms of the quality of decision-making and quantity of complaints decided, was “truly admirable, almost heroic” and the “only wonder” was that delays were not longer.

Mr O’Brien had initially complained to the ombudsman that, when he sought in 2010 to terminate a May 2008 hire-purchase agreement relating to a car, he was not permitted do so until he made 10 additional monthly payments totalling €4,690. His complaint was rejected in April 2012 arising from a mistaken view by the ombudsman that a High Court decision as to how the office should deal with complaints did not apply retroactively. The rejection was appealed to the High Court, but the court returned the matter in October 2012 to the ombudsman’s office for further review.

After complaints about delays in that review, Mr O’Brien initiated further High Court proceedings in July 2013 arguing undue delay by the FSO in reaching a decision. During the hearing of those proceedings last March, Mr Justice Hogan was told a decision was “imminent”.

In his judgment yesterday, the judge noted the ombudsman had complained that the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) had issued a report last March arguing the consumer protection code was imbalanced in favour of financial institutions against consumers and describing the ombudsman’s initial rejection of Mr O’Brien’s complaint as indicative of a “pro-industry” approach.

While the ombudsman objected that the FLAC report was published while this case was at hearing, the judge said he considered that objection not well founded.