The changes mean that SMEs with an annual turnover below £6.5m and fewer than 50 employees, or an annual balance sheet below £5m will now be able to refer unresolved complaints to the ombudsman service.
Respondents to the FCA’s January 2018 consultation strongly supported the extension of the ombudsman service to larger SMEs, charities and trusts, and a new category of personal guarantors.
Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA said: “We recognise it is vitally important for SMEs to have a mechanism to resolve disputes and we are clear the Financial Ombudsman Service is the right route for this. The changes we are making are as far as we think we should go within our powers, but they will provide access to the ombudsman service for a significant number of smaller businesses. Before this their only option was potentially a costly legal one through the courts.
“The changes are an important extension of the ombudsman service’s role and remit. We will work closely with them to ensure that they are ready, so that SMEs are able to benefit from the new rules as soon as they come into force.”
The move will allow a wider number of SMEs to access the service, so they can seek redress. The criteria for access to the service have been amended so that SMEs must only meet the turnover test and one of either the headcount or balance sheet total tests, not all three tests as previously proposed.
The FCA made the change in response to feedback that applying all three tests would unfairly exclude certain types of SME, for example those with relatively low turnover but 50 or more. Final rules on the SME extension are due to come into force on April 1, 2019.