This is a mammoth clause stretching to at least a dozen words and taking up an enormous two lines of the Bill. Obviously, it refers to schedule 11 and we will talk about that shortly. The Financial Ombudsman Service has stood the test of time relatively well. It handles about 4,000 complaints a day and one in five of those turns into a formal dispute heard by adjudicators and ombudsmen. Apparently, 78% of British adults are aware of the Financial Ombudsman Service; I am not sure whether that statistic still applies, but that is the claim, so its work is relatively well known. That might be because more than half its work recently has been focused on the mis-selling of payment protection insurance. We have an opportunity to pause and reflect on how the scheme is working.
Lord Hunt’s review in 2008 of the Financial Ombudsman Service made recommendations about how it could use different means to improve communications and brand itself in a way that was more open to the public. A key recommendation was that under no circumstances should the FOS charge customers for access to its services. Can the Minister put on the record that there is no plan for the FOS to charge customers for complaining?
The 2005 Conservative party report, “Reform of Regulation Covering the UK Financial Services Industry”, recommended charging a fee of £50 for complaints, but I do not know whether that has been killed off. I presume it has. I cannot remember whether the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) was the author of the report, and it would be useful to put on the record that the Minister no longer supports that recommendation. Is he generally happy with the state of the FOS? Given the small and perfectly formed nature of clause 36, I assume that he has no other plans for reform of the service.
I am not sure who the author of the 2005 plan was, but it was not me. Neither the FOS nor I plan to introduce a fee for customers. A great strength of the FOS is that it provides a free dispute resolution mechanism for consumers, which is an important way to enable them to enforce their rights when using financial services. The FOS has a high work load; it received 105,000 complaints on PPI alone last year, and such use demonstrates the high standing in which consumers hold it. It is an important part of the architecture of regulation, and we support and are keen to maintain it.