Complaints about banks were up 6 per cent on the previous financial year, although dispute numbers were down 3 per cent, according to the Banking Ombudsman Scheme’s latest annual report.
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said she attributed the rise in complaints to a greater willingness by customers to seek help when they had problems with their bank.
“We encourage customers to speak up, ask questions and make complaints.It’s inevitable that things will sometimes go wrong. What matters is how problems are put right.”
Ms Sladden credited the scheme’s early resolution service for the drop in disputes, saying it resolved 96 per cent of complaints within a matter of days.
“The key is to nip problems in the bud early. When people have problems, they need to be heard and responded to as quickly as possible.
“Our new fast-track process for resolving complaints by customers in financial difficulty proves this point, and we’ve seen cases where banks have responded with exemplary promptness and support.”
In total, 3,149 people made complaints to the scheme during 2020-21, while a further 1,524 made enquiries and 140 escalated their complaints to disputes.
The most common complaints were about bank accounts and lending (home loans, credit cards, overdrafts, personal and business loans). This was followed by payment methods (such as internet banking and overseas transfers), bank cards and investments.
“COVID-19 has accelerated the already rapid change to digital, contactless banking. Although banks have provided help for this transition, there’s no doubt some people have felt left behind.
“We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints from people who had lost money in scams or through fraud. Scams, including telco, romance and investment scams, can affect anyone and can be truly devastating. We urge people to be extra careful online, and to contact their bank immediately if they think they’ve been scammed.
“In general, we consider whether banks have treated customers fairly, communicated clearly and acted with reasonable care.”
The report features cases where banks fell short in these areas. These include giving an inadequate response to a hardship request, offeringunaffordable credit increases, and ignoring a problem gambler’s request not to be given personal credit.
Ms Sladden said the scheme’s work also had a prevention focus, which included analysing complaints and sharing the resulting insights.
Two milestones during the year were the establishment of a dashboard to track complaints about banks and a whistleblowing service to help to improveconduct in the sector. The dashboard revealed banks reported more than 100,000 complaints during the financial year.