The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is being forced to disclose how widely bankers from RBS used a “confidentiality stamp” to try to prevent disclosure of sensitive documents to its own customers, after a landmark case.
SME Alliance member David Howells appealed to the Information Commissioner (ICO) over the FOS’ refusal of a Freedom of Information Act request to disclose how widely a “confidentiality stamp” had been used by RBS to prevent sensitive documents about customers being shared with the customers after they had made complaints to the FOS.
A complaint had been made by Mr Howells over the handling of a complaint he’d made after RBS subsidiary NatWest stopped his debit card while he was attending a family event in Brazil, despite being told in person by Mr Howells that he was travelling to Brazil.
Mr Howells appealed to the ICO after finding that documents in his case had been stamped; “This information contains CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION relating to RBSG's commercial business activities which if disclosed by FOS to the complainant or to any third party would be likely to adversely affect our legitimate business interests.”
The FOS said that the demand for disclosure was “vexatious” and would create an undue administrative burden.
However, the Information Rights Tribunal rejected the FOS’ argument, and the
ombudsman has agreed to conduct a review of 600 cases spreading over three years–2012-2014– to reveal how widespread the use of this confidentiality stamp was. It will report back by 30 April.
Mr Howells was supported in his action by the SME Alliance.
Andy Keats, director of the SME Alliance, said: “This is a landmark case showing how the banks and regulators appeared to conspire to hide information from customers. This ruling will put the banks and regulators on notice that transparency is key if they want to treat customers fairly.”
The SME Alliance was formed in September 2014 to support SMEs“ battling against fraud, corruption and mis conduct in the financial sector” and to lobby for the fair treatment of businesses by their banks and advisors.
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