A Bill currently before the Dail will amend, update and consolidate all of the legislation underpinning the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Ombudsman with the aim of amalgamating both offices into the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.
Current legislation prohibits the Financial Services Ombudsman from examining any aspect of a complaint where the conduct being complained of occurred more than six years from receipt of the complaint in his office. Extensive research was undertaken into designing the most appropriate time limit achievable within the law that would provide the necessary protection to consumers over the longer term. The Department engaged with stakeholders, analysed views received from the public consultation process, and sought advices from the Office of the Attorney General on this issue.
The Bill extends the time limits for complaints in respect of certain long-term financial services to the same time limit that currently applies to pension products, namely, six years from date of the conduct complained of or three years from the date the complainant knew or ought reasonably to have known about the conduct. The rationale for this expansion is that those who have long-term financial services, may not become aware of an event to be complained of, until their service or product matures and they should have some access to the ombudsman at that stage. Long-term financial services are, in basic terms, services that exceed five years and one month.
The new time limits for long-term financial services will apply to complaints made to the ombudsman about conduct that occurred during or after 2002 and the service in which complaint is about must not have expired or otherwise been terminated more than six years before the date of complaint. This 15-year period, that is, from 2002 to 2017, was recommended by the Law Reform Commission, which was considering a new discoverability time limit for personal injury claims. The introduction of a long stop prevents the opening up of stale cases and gives some certainty to the parties as to the cut-off time for bringing actions. The Bill also provides an extra discretion to the ombudsman to extend the time limit that would benefit consumers of long-term financial services and pensions in cases where it is just and reasonable, similar to the provision that currently exists for pensions complaints.