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Proposal to Extend the Limitation Period for Complaints to the Financial Services Ombudsman

AUTHORs: Sharon Daly Services: Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution DATE: 19/01/2017

The General Scheme of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill 2016 was published on 5 October 2016 and its primary objective is to amalgamate the offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Ombudsman.  Of particular significance for regulated financial service providers is that the General Scheme proposes to amend the limitation period for bringing complaints to the FSO in certain circumstances.

Currently, the FSO has no jurisdiction to investigate complaints where the conduct complained of occurred more than six years before the complaint is made. The FSO has no discretion to extend this limitation period.

The new time limit proposed in the General Scheme proposes to extend the limitation period for consumer complaints in respect of ‘long-term financial services’. The definition of a long-term financial service captures products or services where the maturity / term extends beyond six years and is not subject to annual renewal.

The proposed amended limitation period for complaints in relation to long-term financial services is either:

  1. six years from the date of the act or conduct giving rise to the complaint; or
  2. three years from the earlier of the following two dates:
  • the date on which the consumer making the complaint first became aware of the said act or conduct; and
  • the date on which that consumer ought to have become aware of that act or conduct.

For other short-term financial services, the limitation period of 6 years is unchanged.

Significantly, it is also proposed that this extension to the limitation period would have retrospective effect, meaning a consumer would be entitled to avail of the longer limitation period even if the conduct complained of occurred before the commencement of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act.

If the General Scheme is enacted as currently drafted, it would have far-reaching consequences for a regulated financial service provider and its exposure to consumer complaints to the FSO.

On 17 January 2017 the Government published its Legislative Programme for the Spring / Summer session 2017. It has noted that the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act was a priority for the Government and we therefore expect a Bill to be published shortly. Given its potential significance, we are continuing to closely monitor its progression.