The Court of Appeal spanks the Chief Ombudsman

The Court of Appeal recently ruled in a case about:

appeal concerns a decision by the Chief Ombudsman under s 28A of the Ombudsmen Act 1975 refusing permission for a private dispute resolution service to use “ombudsman” in its name. Without that permission, it is unlawful to use the ombudsman name in connection with any business, or the provision of any service.
The appellant is Financial Services Complaints Limited (FSCL). FSCL’s dispute resolution scheme is approved under the Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act 2008 (FSP Act). Two other such schemes have permission to use the ombudsman name in connection with their schemes. FSCL wishes to do likewise.

We trust on the Ombudsman to be the fair neutral party holding the to account. But in case they were found to have acted very badly.

The summary is:

  • FSCL applied in 2015
  • Then Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem refused permission in 2015 and FSCL applied to judicially decision
  • FSCL applied again in 2016 to new Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier. He refused in 2016
  • The Court of Appeal in 2018 found that refusal was unjustified and directed him to reconsider
  • In 2019 he again refused and the High Court then set that decision aside as pre-meditated and ordered it be reconsidered by someone delegated by the Chief Ombudsman

The Court of Appeal found:

  • We conclude that there is no objectively supportable basis for the Chief Ombudsman’s view that allowing FSCL to use the ombudsman name would lead to such confusion in the mind of the public and to undermine the office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman
  • We have reached the point that, in our view, there was no objectively reliable basis for the Chief Ombudsman’s final decision.
  • As there were no factors that, objectively, justified refusing FSCL’s application, the discretion to refuse permission was only of the most residual kind. We consider that the only lawful decision the Chief Ombudsman could have made was to grant FSCL the permission it sought.

Why is important is that the Court of Appeal found the Chief Ombudsman didn’t decide this issue fairly. The decision was predetermined. And the role of the Chief Ombudsman is to make sure the doesn’t predetermine things and treats people fairly. So there is an obvious loss of confidence following ruling.

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