Complaints against banks at GFC low

Disputes between customers and banks have fallen for the first time since the global financial crisis.

Disputes between customers and banks have fallen for the first time since the global financial crisis.

The Financial Ombudsman Service said on Wednesday the number of disputes fell 11 per cent to 32,307 during 2012-13, bucking a steady upward trend since 2008-09.

Falling interest rates, changes to the banks' hardship programs, and new rules on flood insurance all helped drive the decline, the industry-funded umpire said.

In line with previous years, 70 per cent of disputes were resolved without the need for a ruling from the Ombudsman after customers reached agreement with their financial institution.

Home loans and credit cards were at the centre of most of the disagreements, and in each of these areas Macquarie had the highest dispute rates.

In mortgages, where it has been expanding, Macquarie averaged 285.5 disputes for every 100,000 customers.

The lenders with the next-highest ratios were mortgage manager Over Fifty Seniors Equity Release, with 252.5 disputes per 100,000 customers, and GE Personal Finance, with 244.1 disputes per 100,000.

Among the major banks, NAB had the highest ratio of disputes for home loans, with 74.7 per 100,000 customers.

Macquarie also topped the complaint list for credit cards, with 50.3 complaints per 100,000 customers.

Chief Ombudsman Shane Tregillis said a reason for the improvement was a 22 per cent fall in disputes caused by financial hardship. "This appears to be a result of improvements by the major banks and other financial service providers to their financial hardship programs over the past few years following changes introduced under the 2010 National Credit Code," Mr Tregillis said.

Lower borrowing costs also played a role. Official interest rates fell by 0.75 percentage points in the year to July, cutting repayments.

Disputes about insurance for natural disasters also fell significantly, a trend the Ombudsman said had been affected by the government's decision to introduce a standard definition for flood cover in June 2012.

But the Ombudsman said there had been a doubling in disputes about "maladministration in lending", which includes cases in which mortgage brokers put inaccurate information in home loan applications without the borrower's knowledge.

The Ombudsman said there had been increased media coverage of the issue in the past year.

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