Another delay for Equitable complaints

Equitable Life has been forced to apply for a new waiver from the Financial Services Authority, to give it more time to deal with the wave of complaints it has received in the wake of Lord Penrose's report into the troubled insurer, published in March.

Equitable Life has been forced to apply for a new waiver from the Financial Services Authority, to give it more time to deal with the wave of complaints it has received in the wake of Lord Penrose's report into the troubled insurer, published in March.

The move will mean that hundreds of policyholders who complained as far back as March, may now not receive a comprehensive response until as late as October.

Under FSA rules, all regulated companies must provide a response to complaints within eight weeks of receiving them. However, Equitable found itself overwhelmed by complex correspondence from its policyholders after the Penrose report - the most in-depth study to date into the collapse of the society - forcing it to ask the regulator to extend its deadline.

The FSA granted Equitable its first waiver in May, allowing it to simply send out generic acknowledgement letters to all complainants, and to defer its formal responses until July.

However, as the letters continued to flow in, the insurer has remained unable to get to grips with its swelling mailbags, forcing it to obtain an extension for its original waiver.

Equitable policyholders who complained in the wake of Penrose may not receive a response until October. The FSA's new waiver says the Society does not have to make formal responses until after 30 September, at which point it has a further four weeks to ensure all complaints have been dealt with.

A spokesman for Equitable said: "Although the number of complaints relating to Lord Penrose's report is small, we regard it as important to give each one full consideration, and because some complex legal and actuarial issues are raised, that does take time. We are sorry for the delays."

Paul Braithwaite, the general secretary of the Equitable Members' Action Group, said: "Waiver after waiver is granted to Equitable - much to the frustration of policyholders who are pursuing grievances. There is foot-dragging in their responses and usually it is a form letter which does not deal with the details in the complaint."

Last month, the Parliamentary Ombudsman agreed to reopen her inquiry into Equitable in the light of the Penrose report. This now remains the final hope of compensation for the majority of policyholders and annuitants.

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