Banking complaints up 6 percent in last financial year, fewer escalated to dispute level

Complaints about banks are on the up but the number of disputes have dropped, according to the latest report by the Banking Ombudsman Scheme.

Just over 3100 people made complaints during the last financial year - a 6 percent increase.

Of those, 140 escalated their complaints to disputes - which was a decrease of 3 percent.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden believed the rise in complaints was because customers are more willing to seek help when they encountered problems with their bank.

"We encourage customers to speak up, ask questions and make complaints. It's inevitable that things will sometimes go wrong. What matters is how problems are put right," she said.

Sladden credited the scheme's early resolution service for the drop in disputes, saying 96 percent of complaints were resolved within a matter of days.

"The key is to nip problems in the bud early. When people have problems, they need to be heard and responded to as quickly as possible.

"Our new fast-track process for resolving complaints by customers in financial difficulty proves this point, and we've seen cases where banks have responded with exemplary promptness and support," she said.

The most common complaints were about bank accounts and lending - home loans, credit cards, overdrafts, personal and business loans. This was followed by payment methods, such as internet banking and overseas transfers, bank cards and investments.

Sladden said the closure of branches and ending of cheques had also resulted in complaints.

"COVID-19 has accelerated the already rapid change to digital, contactless banking. Although banks have provided help for this transition, there's no doubt some people have felt left behind.

"We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints from people who had lost money in scams or through fraud. Scams, including telco, romance and investment scams, can affect anyone and can be truly devastating. We urge people to be extra careful online, and to contact their bank immediately if they think they've been scammed.

"In general, we consider whether banks have treated customers fairly, communicated clearly and acted with reasonable care."

The report featured cases where banks fell short, including giving an inadequate response to a hardship request, offering unaffordable credit increases, and ignoring a problem gambler's request not to be given personal credit.

Sladden said the scheme's work also had a prevention focus, which included analysing complaints and sharing the resulting insights.