Ombudsman lashed over Equitable

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The Independent Online

The cross-bench peer Lord Neill of Bladen will launch a scathing attack on the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) today, accusing it of unfair and incompetent conduct in its handling of the Equitable Life case.

In a 250-page report exploring the FOS's handling of Equitable Life members following the Society's collapse in 2000, Lord Neill will accuse the FOS of failing to remain impartial in its adjudication of disputes between financial services firms and consumers. He will also accuse the FOS of not retaining sufficient independence from the Financial Services Authority.

Lord Neill will present his report, which was commissioned by the Equitable Members Action Group, to a committee of European MPs today, before formally publishing it on Friday.

"The impression gained by the complainants whose cases I have studied is that the FOS is not a body which holds the scales of justice evenly," said Lord Neill.

"It is a body which in many ways and in many instances has displayed partiality towards the financial firm, in this case [Equitable Life].

"Many of the case studies reveal attitudes on the part of FOS officials which the complainants felt were unhelpful, unnecessarily argumentative, even aggressive."

The FOS dismissed many of the claims against Equitable Life by those who lost out after its collapse. The FOS yesterday hit back at Lord Neill's claims, accusing his findings of being "unfair, unbalanced and inaccurate". The Ombudsman added that it had not yet been given the opportunity to see the full report, and was not allowed to present its case to Lord Neill while he was compiling his report.

David Cresswell, a spokesman for the FOS, said: "It seems ironic that a report that appears neither impartial nor properly representative of the views of people who brought complaints to us about Equitable Life, should accuse the ombudsman of being unfair, simply because we cannot always tell those with complaints what they would like to hear."