The FSA gets teeth - at last

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The Independent Online

Next Saturday the excuses run out for the Financial Services Authority. Although it has been throwing its weight around for nearly three-and-a-half years, it is not until the beginning of next month that it formally acquires legal powers under the Financial Services and Markets Act.

Since June 1998 the FSA has merely taken on the staff and operational duties of its predecessor regulators which had been created under the 1986 Financial Services Act, acting technically as their agent while it waited for the new legislation to be passed. Sir Howard Davies, the FSA chairman, has until now claimed that his powers were limited and therefore the organisation was hamstrung in what it could do.

The main impact of the legal change will be on financial services companies, as the FSA will be able to keep them on a much tighter rein. The new law introduces a new regulatory regime for the Lloyd's insurance market, and there will be more power to demand information from the banks, insurers, investment businesses and other firms under its remit.

The immediate impact for the public is that they will have a single Financial Ombudsman Service, instead of eight, and the six compensation agencies have also been whittled down into one Financial Services Compensation Scheme. These have each already been brought under one roof.

The FSA will stick closer to the companies it polices, taking an interest in firms' ongoing relationships with customers. Proposals are due soon to make annual statements on with-profits policies more understandable, and the FSA will look at how firms handle complaints, collecting (and maybe publishing) data on the complaints received and how they are resolved.

Christine Farnish, the FSA's consumer director, said: "There won't be an overnight step-change, but a gradual build-up of our powers. The new legal framework puts the consumer centre stage, and we will be abled to make sure the market is a fairer place."

The register of authorised firms and advisers is on www.thecentralregister.co.uk.

Useful phone numbers

The FSA, 020-7676 1000; Consumer Helpline (including Central Register authorisation queries), From UK: 0845 606 1234 (local call rates),From Overseas: +44 20 7676 1000; The Financial Ombudsman Service, 020-7964 1001. Email: enquiries@financial-ombudsman.org.uk. Website: www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk; The Financial Services Compensation Scheme, 020-7892 7300; enquiries@fscs.org.uk Website: www.fscs.org.uk

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