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The Financial Ombudsman – what €20 could buy you

By Andrea Kallis Parparinou

For the modest fee of €20, the Financial Ombudsman examines complaints by consumers against financial undertakings such as banks, investment firms and insurance companies.

The law establishing and regulating the Office requires complaints to be investigated fairly, impartially, promptly and effectively.

The law explicitly obliges the Ombudsman to safeguard the interests of consumers, and also sets specific time limits the Ombudsman should comply with.

Mr Pavlos Ioannou is the current Financial Commissioner at the Office of the Financial Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s decision is not binding unless both parties accept in writing in advance that it will be binding, in which case the decision will then be final and not be subject to appeal in court.

The complaint form for both natural and legal persons may be downloaded from the Financial Ombudsman’s website and is available in English.

The complaint can be submitted either by hand, post, fax or by email.

By filling in the complaint form, individuals and legal persons can submit a complaint against financial businesses, regarding a protest or objection or dispute of value up to the amount of €170,000 (there are proposals for this amount to be increased soon), provided that the conditions of the relevant law are met.

The Ombudsman may award compensation to the complainant of up to €50,000.

Legal persons include businesses worth less than €250,000 per year, trusts with net assets of less than €250,000 in a calendar year, as well as charities with a yearly income of less than €250,000 satisfying certain criteria.

The law regulating the operation of the Office of the Financial Ombudsman imposes strict duties of confidentiality on all employees and members of the Office and generally anyone who has access to the complainant’s data.

The complaint procedure is straightforward and the decision should be issued within six months from the receipt of the complaint.

The procedure may be stopped at any point, which allows flexibility.

In addition, an individual can file an application, which is also available in English, to appoint a mediator for the restructuring of their credit facilities where the total contractual obligations of the borrower are not more than €350,000 and are secured by a mortgage or by a contract of assignment of security of the property that is used as the main residence (the owner must have lived there at least six months per year).

The mediator will act as a catalyst between the two parties to help them find a mutually-acceptable resolution of their differences.

The procedure is available as long as no court decision has been issued or is pending and there are no pending proceedings in relation to the matter.

If the Ombudsman decides to appoint a mediator, the appointment is made within three working days.

The writer is advocate/partner at Elias Neocleous & Co LLC www.neo.law

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