All members of the Equity Release Council aim to provide consistently high standards of service to their customers. However, things can go wrong from time to time. If you have a complaint about your equity release plan – or you wish to make a complaint on behalf of a member of your family who has or had such a plan – then your first port of call should be the firm that advised or provided you with the plan, be that the adviser, the solicitor, surveyor or the product provider (lender).
Complaints about providers or advisers
All our provider and adviser members are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This means that they must comply with the FCA’s rules on how to deal with customers’ complaints. The Financial Conduct Authority accepts a “complaint” to be applicable to:
“Any oral or written expression of dissatisfaction, whether justified or not, from, or on behalf of, a person about the provision of, or failure to provide, a financial service or a redress determination* which:*compensation decision
(a) alleges that the complainant has the potential of, or the actual suffering of financial loss, material distress or material inconvenience; and
(b) relating to an activity of that respondent, or of any other respondent with whom that respondent has some connection in marketing or providing financial services or products, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Financial Ombudsman Service.”
Under the FCA’s rules, the first thing the firm must do is acknowledge your complaint and investigate it fully. It must then send you a “final response” within 8 weeks of receiving your complaint. That final response must:
- Tell you that the firm accepts your complaint and explain what action it is now going to take to redress it; or
- Tell you that the firm does not accept your complaint but is prepared to offer you some redress; or
- Tell you that the firm does not accept your complaint and explain why. It must also explain to you that you now have the right to take your complaint further, to the Financial Ombudsman Service (see below for more details) and send you a leaflet explaining how you can do this.
- If the firm has not been able to come to a decision about your complaint within the 8-week timescale, the final response must explain why this is the case and tell you when the firm does expect to be in a position to give you its decision. It must also tell you that you may now go direct to the Financial Ombudsman Service without waiting any longer, and must include the leaflet explaining how you can do this.
The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)
The Financial Ombudsman Service will investigate your complaint at no cost to you. Investigations are generally carried out by correspondence, though you may be contacted by telephone if that is the easiest way of clarifying details. Very occasionally, the Ombudsman may ask to hold a “hearing” – that is, a meeting where you and the firm you are complaining about are present. However, this is very rare. The main purpose of the Ombudsman service is that it helps to resolve complaints in a fair and impartial manner, without your having to go to Court and face the formal legal procedures (and costs) entailed. If, when you receive the Ombudsman’s decision on your complaint, you are not happy with the outcome, you are still free to pursue the matter further via legal processes. However, you would have to pay the costs of doing so.
You can find out more about the Financial Ombudsman here: - http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/
In addition to complying with the FCA’s rules on complaints, our members seek to offer you a high level of service by complying with Statement of Principles. They are also required to abide by our internal Rules & Guidance. The FOS is aware of these documents and will likely take them into account when deciding how to resolve any complaint which you may refer to. However, if you feel that a member has failed to uphold our principle standards, you may want to contact us. You can:
- Write to the Chairman of the Standards Board, Equity Release Council, 3rd Floor, North West Wing, Aldwych, London WC2B 4PJ; or
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org or
- Phone us on 0844 669 7085
Complaints about solicitors
If you have a complaint about the Solicitor who gave you independent legal advice on your plan, you should raise it with the person handling your case. If this does not resolve the issue, you should write to the firm’s Managing Partner. This will ensure that your complaint is formally dealt with under the firm’s complaints handling procedure. The Managing Partner will send you a written copy of that procedure, explaining the steps that will be taken to investigate your complaint and the timescales within which you can expect to receive a response. You may be invited to a meeting to discuss your complaint. When the firm has completed its investigation, the Managing Partner will write advising you of the firm’s decision. If your complaint has been upheld, the Managing Partner may make some suggestions as to how to resolve the issue (such as reducing or waiving some costs). If your complaint has not been upheld, and you remain dissatisfied, the Managing Partner should advise you that you are entitled to raise a formal complaint with the Legal Ombudsman and explain how you may do this. The Legal Ombudsman will only consider complaints from the public where the firm’s own complaints handling procedure has been invoked and exhausted.
The contact details for the Legal Ombudsman are as follows:
The Legal Ombudsman
PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton. WV1 9WJ
Telephone: 0300 555 0333
Complaints about Surveyors
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) requires all surveying practices to have in place a complaints handling procedure which complies with the RICS’s rules. Your surveyor must provide you with a written copy of this procedure if you ask for it. If you have a complaint about the surveyor who surveyed your property in connection with your equity release plan, you should in the first instance raise your complaint with that individual. If you remain unhappy, you should write to the Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer or the Senior Partner of the surveying practice, setting out the details of your complaint. If you make a verbal complaint (ie., over the telephone) then you will be asked to put it in writing. Once the firm has received your complaint in writing, you should receive a written acknowledgement within 5 working days, 10 working days after the firm has received your written complaint, the person dealing with it should write to you informing you of the outcome of the firm’s investigation and what actions are being proposed. If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the handling of the complaint you can refer it back for a separate review. The firm will write to you within 14 working days to notify you of the conclusions of this separate review. If the complaint has still not been resolved to your satisfaction then there are two possible courses of action:
First, if the firm concerned subscribes to the service offered by the Ombudsman Services: Property, you may refer your complaint there. The Ombudsman will respond to you within 28 days to advise you what decision has been taken in respect of your complaint. If you decide to accept this outcome, it will be binding on the surveying practice concerned. If you decide not to accept the Ombudsman’s decision, you remain free to pursue your complaint through court.
Please see below the contact details for the Ombudsman Services: Property.
Ombudsman Services: Property
PO Box 1021 Warrington WA4 9FE
Telephone: 0330 440 1635
You can find out if the firm subscribes to the service by checking the list which appears on the Ombudsman’s website at: http://www.ombudsman-services.org/memberlists.property/
Second, if the firm does not subscribe to this service, you can ask the RICS to appoint an independent adjudicator to investigate the complaint for you. The RICS’s contact details are as follows:
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
12 Great George Street (Parliament Square), London SW1P 3AD
Tel: 020 7695 1670