LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s financial complaints body encouraged consumers on Friday to lodge claims for mis-sold loan insurance ahead of an Aug. 29 deadline, despite criticism from some banks that a majority of the claims were “vexatious”.
Banks have paid out more than 36 billion pounds ($43.6 billion) for mis-selling payment protection insurance (PPI) over the past decade in Britain’s costliest retail scandal. Regulators set the August deadline for remaining claims.
Three of Britain’s biggest banks said they had been contending with a surge in PPI claims ahead of the deadline in first-half results this week, with Lloyds (LLOY.L) and Barclays (BARC.L) arguing the quality had gone down as volumes had risen.
Lloyds (LLOY.L), which has shelled out more than 20 billion pounds alone for PPI claims, set aside an extra 550 million pounds to cover a rise in claims.
Barclays’ Finance Director Tushar Morzaria said many of the influx of enquiries were “vexatious”.
“A lot of the PPI claims we are seeing are people who have never had a relationship with Barclays, I think the claims management companies are swamping the bank with vexatious claims,” Morzaria said on a call with reporters on Thursday.
But Caroline Wayman, chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), told Reuters that while fewer claims were clear contenders for compensation, consumers should not be criticised for approaching lenders.
What banks refer to as poor quality complaints were often consumers simply asking if they had been sold a policy in the first place, Wayman said.
“At points in time during this mis-selling scandal these policies were being added without people’s knowledge so it’s a perfectly decent question to ask,” she said.
FOS has forecast 250,000 PPI complaints in the current financial year, up from 180,507 actual complaints in the prior period and two million in total.
While the forecast appears “slightly high”, a last minute spike was possible, Wayman said.
“There is a very good chance that we will see a rush for the finish as people get their claims in before the deadline,” she said.
FOS only takes on complaints if a consumer feels they have not obtained redress from the financial firm first.
Over 1,000 of FOS’ 3,800 staff deal with PPI complaints, with staffing next year depending on complaints in other products.
Complaints about short-term loans are forecast to make up some of the shortfall left by PPI and surge to 50,000 this year.
Wayman said the FOS was receiving complaints from consumers saddled with some 10-15 loans, some with a 100, raising questions about whether adequate affordability checks were made.
Half to two-thirds of the complaints are being upheld, an indication of fundamental problems, Wayman said.
“Those people were sometimes borrowing money to feed the kids, not borrowing money for discretionary things. That is very concerning,” Wayman said.
Reporting by Huw Jones and Iain Withers; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise