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Instead of marching straight to court, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) provides an accessible and alternative method of resolving disputes between consumers or businesses and financial service providers who are members of FOS.

How FOS works

FOS aims to determine disputes in a timely and cost-effective manner, and is an attractive forum for consumers where the issue or amount in dispute might be disproportionate to the cost of pursuing their claim through the court system.

The FOS process is simple and straightforward – in a nutshell:

  • the applicant lodges a dispute with FOS setting out in full detail the basis of the dispute and provides copies of all relevant documentation;
  • the financial services provider provides its response to the applicant’s dispute and also provides copies of all relevant documentation;
  • FOS reviews the dispute and notifies the parties of its decision (known as a Recommendation), including the reasoning behind that decision – FOS determines disputes having regard to the relevant law, good industry practice, codes of practice and may also consider previous FOS decisions.

FOS also has its own ‘appeal’ process:

  • either party may request a review of FOS decision and provide any further information relevant to the review;
  • the other party also has the opportunity to provide any further information relevant to the review; and
  • FOS conducts a further review the dispute and notifies the parties of its final decision (known as a Determination).

Limits and exclusions

Not all disputes can be heard by FOS. The cases which FOS will not consider are set out in its Terms of Reference, which is available from FOS’ website (https://www.fos.org.au/).

In particular, FOS may not consider a dispute where the applicant’s claim is worth more than $500,000. In addition, there are caps on the total value of the remedy that may be decided on by FOS – the monetary cap varies depending upon the nature of the dispute (these are also set out in FOS’ Terms of Reference). For example, for disputes against financial advisors for inappropriate advice, the maximum amount an applicant can recover under FOS is $309,000 (excluding costs and interest).

There are also time limits on lodging a dispute with FOS. The time limits vary depending upon the nature of the dispute however is generally between 2-6 years.

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