Using evidence to build a picture of eligibility
25 May 2021
Alexandra Marks, Chief Adjudicator
Now that the BBRS is in operation, we are working with live cases and can build up a picture of customers’ experiences. Our rulebook was agreed and signed off by SMEs and banks working together in February, and now is an opportune moment to set out some of our key principles.
The BBRS’ rules have now been formally established. They were unanimously approved by the Implementation Steering Group (ISG) comprising seven bank representatives, eight representatives of SMEs and an independent chairman. Both bank and SME representatives received independent legal advice before approving the rules. It is important to recognise that it is not in BBRS’ gift to modify them. What we can do is look at and take action on individual registered cases.
A key principle has long been that the jurisdiction of the BBRS should not overlap with the jurisdiction of the Financial Ombudsman Service. The BBRS has not been established to re-open complaints that have already been settled under another scheme, or to provide a second opportunity to review a complaint.
This means that the eligibility criteria for our historical scheme are detailed – an inevitable consequence of dove-tailing with the eligibility criteria of the Financial Ombudsman Service as they have evolved over the past 20 years. However, our customer champions stand ready to help anyone using the service to navigate the scheme free of charge.
Supporting all customers
There are various options we can offer even ineligible customers. To do this, we need the affected businesses to register with us so that we can discuss the facts and history of their case confidentially. We can only explore the viability of these options if customers register and talk to us.
For example, our scheme is mindful of a possible ‘gap’ between the BBRS and the Financial Ombudsman Service for those SME customers who had no opportunity to have their complaint considered by the Financial Ombudsman Service for reasons unrelated to the size of the business.
In such cases, the BBRS is able to ask a customer’s bank for consent to admit an ineligible, smaller SME’s complaint to the scheme where we consider we should be able to do so. The banks have contractually agreed to act reasonably and in good faith when considering the BBRS’ request to deal with such a case. If the bank’s decision is not to allow the BBRS to consider such a case, it must provide the BBRS and the customer with a written explanation.
Once admitted to the scheme, such a case is treated in the same way as any eligible case would be. This includes the availability of adjudicative and non-adjudicative dispute resolution methods and the enforceability of any determination, provided that it has not been subject to a successful appeal and has been accepted by the customer.
As an independent body and a learning organisation, we are open-minded regarding what we learn from cases that are registered and taken through the scheme. However, any such reflections must be based on quantitative evidence of the scheme in practice. Little more than three months after our launch, our focus now is on encouraging customers to register and taking forward those cases that have been registered. We are also aware that we may see a large uptick in registrations in respect of the contemporary scheme from 2022, as the after-shocks of the pandemic crisis begin to make themselves felt in the business community.
Meanwhile, we will analyse how the BBRS is functioning in practice by looking at the evidence from our casework. Through our casework we will be gathering not just data but also factual evidence about the kinds of cases which turn out to be ineligible for our service. We have already begun to research the customer experience of the service, regardless of outcome, to make sure that we live up to our promise of being accessible and user-friendly.
Moving forward, it is absolutely critical that as many SME customers as possible register their cases with us – even if they think that they may be ineligible. Our key message is: “Don’t self-exclude”. Without such cases, there is a risk that we are unable to see whether and why such cases might justify consideration by the BBRS. Even more importantly, cases that are actually eligible may never reach us if customers do self-exclude.
I therefore urge all potential customers to bring their case to the BBRS. We are up and running – and we are willing to listen and learn from our practical experiences of working on live cases. We look forward to hearing from you and to being able to help wherever we can.