Remote working requirements are no excuse for financial firms to ignore their complaint-handling obligations, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says.
In guidance to industry firms, released May 1, the FCA stressed that consumer complaint handling is an important function that financial firms should continue to perform, even amid the restrictions imposed in response to Covid-19.
“Firms should take all reasonable steps to ensure as much complaint handling as possible continues through staff working from home, where this can be done fairly and effectively,” the regulator said.
The regulator also said that it expects firms to prioritize paying clients that have accepted redress offers, resolving complaints from vulnerable clients and businesses, and providing timely responses in cases that can’t be resolved quickly.
If firms can’t deliver on these priorities while working remotely, the FCA said, “it could be appropriate for the firm to maintain the minimal physical onsite presence needed to do so.”
The guidance also noted that the effects of the pandemic and public health restrictions are also likely to aggravate the factors that cause clients to be considered vulnerable.
“Coronavirus could exacerbate, or suddenly cause, vulnerability in many ways,” the regulator said. “These may include: loss of income from losing employment or being furloughed, the impact of isolation on mental and physical health, and people’s ability to work and care for others.”
While the FCA’s definition of a vulnerable consumer was meant to apply mainly to individuals, it also notes that “micro-enterprises and small businesses can also face circumstances that can make them especially susceptible to harm if a firm’s failure to act with appropriate levels of care means their complaint is not resolved promptly and fairly.”
Additionally, while firms may see their complaint-handling capacity reduced, the FCA said that doesn’t warrant relaxing the quality of their efforts to resolve complaints.
“Firms should ensure they continue to meet the relevant obligations, including investigating complaints competently, diligently and impartially, and paying appropriate redress or making other appropriate remediation,” it said.