Role of a FOS case worker
Under the Terms of Reference which came into force on 1 January 2010, a new dispute resolution process was established which, broadly speaking has four stages: Registration, Acceptance, Case Management and Outcomes. As the year progresses more cases are moving into Case Management, so it seems timely to provide an update confirming the role of a case worker in the Case Management and Outcomes stages of the process.
The case worker's primary role is to work towards a fair resolution of a dispute. To achieve this, the case worker takes a questioning and investigative approach to disputes.
The first two stages of the dispute resolution process at FOS are:
- Registration (when disputes are referred to the financial services provider's (FSP) internal dispute resolution process), and
- Acceptance (when we assess whether the dispute comes within our Terms of Reference).
In the third stage of dispute resolution, Case Management, a FOS case worker:
- refers the dispute to the FSP for a response
- may request additional information or action from the parties involved in the dispute, and
- decides on the most appropriate dispute resolution methods to use.
In the fourth stage of dispute resolution, Outcomes, a FOS case worker makes a decision about the dispute in the form of a Recommendation. In some circumstances a dispute may be expedited and bypass the Recommendation stage and move straight to a Determination.
The case worker decides which of the following dispute resolution methods should be used:
- providing an assessment on the merits, or
- a decision.
In considering the most appropriate dispute resolution methods for a dispute, the case worker will take into account:
- the nature of the issues raised by the dispute
- the parties to the dispute, their circumstances, and the nature of their relationship
- any special circumstances or factors relevant to the dispute, and
- the principles outlining our commitment to dispute resolution as found in paragraph 1 of the Terms of Reference (timeliness, minimum formality, transparency, etc.).
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When the case worker investigates a dispute, they may need to ask the parties for additional information.
When we do this, we expect a party to comply within the timeframe specified unless one of the exceptions in paragraph 7.2 of the Terms of Reference applies. If a party believes that an exception applies, they need to explain their view and provide material to support their explanation within the timeframe specified in the request for information.
In addition to asking for information, paragraph 7.3 of the Terms of Reference allows the case worker to ask parties to take other actions that may assist our consideration of the dispute. For example, the case worker may:
- ask a party to attend an interview, or
- ask an FSP to appoint an independent expert to report to us.
A case worker will:
- clarify the issues in dispute where required, and
- communicate relevant information to the appropriate party.
A case worker may assist the parties to find a resolution through negotiation, mediation or conciliation. When a dispute is resolved, the case worker facilitates the finalisation and exchange of settlement documents.
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Where a matter is not resolved, once the case worker has collected and analysed all the relevant information, we are ready to make a decision about the dispute. To do this, the case worker will consider what is fair in the circumstances having regard to:
- legal principles
- applicable industry codes or guidance as to practice
- good industry practice, and
- our previous decisions.
A case worker's decision is a Recommendation. This is a comprehensive assessment that sets out:
- all the relevant facts of a dispute
- the information relied on
- the view we have reached about how the dispute should be resolved, and
- the reasons for that view.
We proceed to a Determination if, within 30 days of receiving a Recommendation, either:
- the FSP does not accept the Recommendation, or
- either party requests us to proceed to a Determination.
In this situation, the case worker prepares and then refers the dispute file to a Panel or Ombudsman.
FOS case workers generally have legal, industry and/or financial counseling training and experience. They also receive extensive training at FOS in the investigation of disputes, mediation, negotiation, conciliation and the requirements of our Terms of Reference. Please feel free to contact the FOS case worker assigned to your dispute to discuss any clarification you require and any options for resolution that you can identify.