A growing number of consumers are receiving “dismal” treatment when they complain to financial services companies, it was claimed this week.
The Financial Ombudsman Service said the way some companies were handling complaints suggested that a “weary cynicism” was setting in.
Chief Ombudsman Walter Merricks said: “Some in the financial services industry, currently facing significant business challenges, appear to be taking the jaundiced view that having a large number of complaining customers is just an unfortunate fact of life.
“So they seem to be geared up simply to dispose of complaints at the minimum cost, and with minimal attention to the individual facts and circumstances.”
He said the treatment that some customers received was “nothing short of dismal”.
He added that as a result, many people who turned to the Ombudsman felt angry, ignored and let down by financial institutions.
Mr Merricks said poor complaints handling by businesses meant that cases were often not properly looked through until they reached the Ombudsman, despite the fact that companies should already have assessed them.
The service was also having to spend time and resources chasing files and gathering information that companies should have put together and considered when they first became aware of the complaint.
Research carried out by the Ombudsman also suggested that nearly half of consumers who had an unresolved complaint against a financial services firm were put off from pursuing it further by the fact that the company had such an unhelpful approach.
Mr Merricks said: “In the current climate, high standards of customer service may not seem the top priority to businesses battening down the hatches.
“But when markets pick up and these same businesses look to attract new customers, they may well discover that consumers have long memories of how well, or otherwise, they were treated in the past.”
Last month the Ombudsman complained that some companies were being “obstructive” about dealing with complaints about controversial payment protection insurance, adding that it was currently upholding around 90 per cent of the complaints it received against some firms and in one case it was upholding all of them.
Separately, it emerged that nearly one million consumers have had refund claims for unauthorised overdraft charges frozen since July 2007.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said 972,565 claims had been put on hold by the banks, while stays had been put on a further 26,914 cases that were going through the UK courts. The claims were put on hold following the announcement that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and seven banks and a building society were launching a High Court test case to establish whether the charges were fair.
But the case is unlikely to be resolved quickly, as the banks recently won leave to appeal an earlier High Court ruling that the charges are subject to regulation by the OFT to the Law Lords.
No date for the hearing has yet been set, and even if the banks lose the case, a second hearing will still be needed to establish whether unauthorised overdraft charges are fair, and if not, what a fair charge would be.
The OFT said last week that its own investigation into the charges, which is being carried out in parallel to the legal proceedings, would not be completed until the end of this year.
The FSA, which revealed the number of frozen claims following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, said: “These numbers show why this issue is so important to resolve by gaining legal clarity.”