Simon Read: Claims managers show that they're not here to help us, but to profit from us


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The Independent Online

Claims management companies were back in the news this week after an undercover Which? investigation at 25 firms revealed that all offered misleading advice.

That won't come as much of a surprise to critics of the industry, but the scale of the poor practices and dodgy activities really is astounding. The companies target people who may have been missold insurance or other financial products and say they can help them make a claim against the bank or insurer concerned.

They dangle the carrot of compensation to people which is a tempting proposition. But the truth is that most people should be able to take their own cases to their financial provider and, if they get no satisfaction, onto the Financial Ombudsman Service.

True, there may be some folk that need some hand-holding when it comes to dealing with a financial institution but, frankly, there are plenty of sources of free advice online or through experts such as Citizens Advice.

Let's face it, these firms aren't in it to help people; they're in it to make money. They have every right to do so, of course, unless they trick people into needlessly using their services and paying their fees. And that's what Which? found happened in every case they investigated.

Their researchers posed as people who thought they may have been missold payment protection insurance, and were told they had little chance of making a successful claim without the intervention of the claims managers.

Two-thirds of the firms didn't mention the Financial Ombudsman Service, which they are required to do so. One even misleadingly stated: "If the bank rejects your claim, there's nothing you can do."

One firm even told the researcher: "You have over a 90 per cent chance of claiming it through us, or under a 10 per cent chance of doing it by yourself." That's patent nonsense and is a good reason to crack down on the activities of these chancers.

Half of the people who have used a claims management company told Which? they had been cold called. The firms should be barred from doing so, and earning fees from people who are already victims of mis-selling. The Ministry of Justice should use Which?'s evidence as the basis of its own investigation and should force firms to act properly or be closed down.

Staff at some of the firms seem particularly out of control. For instance, when I criticised claims management companies in a column earlier this year, three people commented online in quite aggressive and unpleasant terms about me. It was relatively simple to discover that they all worked for the same claims management firm based in Manchester. Their actions seemed redolent of an industry that's out of control.

FOLLOWING our article calling for the banning of confusing commission-free currency deals two weeks ago, watchdog Consumer Focus this week put in a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about widescale holiday money rip-offs.

It would have made more sense if they had done so earlier in the year, before everyone flew off on summer holidays with a fistful of currency they had been overcharged for. But we should still be thankful the issue is now being examined.

It is one of the few areas of personal finance where it's almost impossible to compare prices or know whether you've got a good deal or been ripped off. Currency providers – whether it's cash or through cards – should be forced to show simply how much money you'll get for each pound you spend abroad taking into account every charge, fee or extra that is slapped on.

If you're happy to pay extra for the convenience of picking up cash at the airport, for instance, or for being able to use your credit card abroad then you should be told how much extra that convenience is costing you.

If you want to get the best bang for your buck, you should be able to work out which online provider offers the best deal without having to get out a calculator.

The OFT has up to 90 days to respond to the super-complaint. That gives it until just before Christmas. It would be great if you could get some clarity before some people head off on winter breaks, but experience tells us the regulator will take much longer. Will it act before next summer?

Scottish success

Airdrie Savings Bank opened its eighth branch on Thursday. The Falkirk branch is the first to open outside Lanarkshire in Airdrie's 175-year history. While big banks grab the headlines, it's pleasing to report of a growing local, independent bank – especially one with a history of serving its community.

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