The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 (the "Act") was enacted on 26 July 2017.
The purpose of the Act is to amalgamate the offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman and Pensions Ombudsman and to consolidate and update existing legislation. This was decided in the context of public sector reform. Regulated financial service providers and pension providers fall within the Ombudsman’s remit.
The merging of the two offices had been planned for some time and formally provides a "one-stop shop" for complaints in relation to financial service providers and pension providers. The merger establishes the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman ("FSPO") as an independent officer to resolve complaints about the conduct of regulated financial service and pension providers through mediation and where necessary by investigation and adjudication. The Act also establishes the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (the "Office") to support the Ombudsman. The FSPO has statutory powers to resolve disputes between parties and where necessary to direct rectification.
The Act changes the timeframes within which certain complaints can be made. The new time limit has two parts which relate to long-term financial services and short-term financial services.
The definition of a long-term financial service is a financial "service where the actual or intended duration of the service is five years and one month, or more, and is not subject to unilateral cancellation or annual review."
Complaints relating to long-term financial services or the conduct of a pension provider can be made:
- six years from the date of the conduct giving rise to the complaint;
- three years from the earlier of the date on which the person making the complaint first became aware, or ought reasonably to have become aware, of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint; or
- within a longer period as the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman may allow, provided it is determined that there are reasonable grounds for a longer period. It also must be determined that it would be just and equitable to allow for a longer period.
To benefit from the new timeframes in respect of a long-term financial service, the complaint must relate to conduct occurring during or after 2002. The financial service provided giving rise to the complaint must also not have expired more than six years before the complaint is made.
For other short-term financial services, the limitation period of six years is unchanged. A complaint will need to be made within six years of the date of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint.
Where the complaint relates to a financial service, the FSPO can direct the payment of compensation of up to €250,000. Findings of the FSPO are legally binding subject only to an appeal to the High Court.
The FSPO has the power to:
- Continue a case following the death of a complainant;
- Issue preliminary determinations to indicate the potential final decision, and;
- Inform the relevant authorities in instances where there is a persistent pattern of complaints or facts.