I entrusted my life’s savings to a local firm because I lacked any investment expertise to manage them myself. I left it to them to build a portfolio entirely at their discretion but on a low-risk basis. Then, nearly two years ago, I suddenly found the value of my savings had dropped by around £50,000 overnight after the firm had put a proportion of my savings into an ultra-high-risk fund that subsequently collapsed.
They refused to accept any responsibility, said that I should have complained earlier and considered the time limit for doing so as having expired.
They claimed that after purchasing the fund they had written to me some years ago asking whether I wanted to sell it after it was apparently flagged up as questionable by the regulator. I don’t remember the incident, but apparently I decided to keep it. However, I would not have done this without guidance.
I was lulled into a false sense of security over many years as the investment showed up as valid on the internet portfolio platform I was given to monitor its value. It wasn’t until July 2017, when the investment suddenly disappeared, that I realised something was seriously wrong. I therefore had no inkling that the fund was in any way worthy of making a complaint about until that time.
I complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the initial investigator concluded that I had been misled. However, this viewpoint was overturned by the ombudsman himself, who refused to investigate on the basis that I should have complained earlier.
Is there any way to challenge the Ombudsman’s decision as the system as it stands seems grossly unjust and appears to be seriously letting people down.
BM, by email
I was upset to read about your experiences with a personal investment company and then the Ombudsman. What’s happened to you appears very shocking. But it seems you’ve fallen foul of the Ombudsman’s rules, which say that it “can only look into cases referred to our service within six years from the event being complained about, or – if later – three years from when the consumer knew, or could reasonably have known they had cause to complain.”
You can find out more about the time limit rules at financial-ombudsman.org.uk/faqs/all/time-limits-complaints.
Given that, it would seem that the time limit red tape was the only reason the Ombudsman didn’t follow up its initial conclusion that you had been misled. By the sound of what you’ve told me, you may have a reasonable case against the original firm if you decided to take them to court. It’s something you should seek legal advice on.
You tell me you can only afford the ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers but, frankly, in my experience, many are simply claims managers who are only interested in easy accident or compensation claims that require minimal legal work.
You should get a proper legal view of your case’s merits. Citizens Advice may be able to help with this. The charity offers free legal advice through its bureaux across the country. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) through citizensadvice.org.uk – I’d suggest you make an appointment and get a free legal opinion there.
It’s also worth trying to track down a decent solicitor. Ask friends if they know of any reputable ones that you may be able to talk to.
Otherwise, use the ‘Find a Solicitor’ service at solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk to see lawyers in your area and call them to see how much they might charge for an initial interview. It may be worthwhile investing a few hundred quid to find out whether you have a legal case to chase your lost £50,000.