At least the press are on the case, says Caroline Jordan
Payment protection insurance (PPI) is a scandal. But are the culprits perpetrating this outrageous rip-off likely to feel pain? Judging by the FSA's soundings, it's possible a rap on the knuckles, and a gentle one at that, is the worst they'll experience.
Unpleasant memories stick. Years ago, I was sold PPI by a commission-hungry saleswoman at Lloyds TSB. The inference was that a loan would not be forthcoming without "the safety net of cover."
When I realised the self-employed couldn't claim, I tried to get a premium refund.
A battle royale ensued as the bank denied mis-selling, telling me I was still eligible to claim under the measly sickness and accident provision.
After threatening to go to the national press and move my current account, I got the money back, but was left battered and stressed.
Not that suffering from stress would have guaranteed me a PPI pay-out - insurers invariably wriggle out of paying if a claimant can't work for "mental health" reasons.
A colleague of mine then noticed that his credit card bill was high - because PPI had been sneakily added onto repayments. The company had pocketed his hard-earned dosh for months.
Another colleague says her 19-year-old sister was a victim. Interest was added onto wickedly high PPI premiums on a loan - she is paying this off years later. How many others are paying through the nose for naiveté?
But instead of wielding the cosh, the FSA seems to be waving a feather duster.
In its latest update, the regulator says mystery shopping has revealed "poor behaviour" and that "a number" of firms are to be investigated.
But juxtaposed with this is a cosy photo of Clive Briault and a quote saying "PPI can provide worthwhile cover". Its 'Dear CEO' letter, telling firms to clean up their acts, includes tips to review "inducements and sales targets" and "price disclosure". The threat of "possible enforcement action" is buried near the end.
On calling the FSA's press office to find out when heads would roll, I received a dusty answer from an irritated spokesman. He said there were no plans to name and shame until fines were issued, and stressed that firms would have the right to appeal under the Financial Services and Markets Tribunal.
If the FSA can't see this is a scandal of massive proportions, at least the national press - such as the Mail on Sunday - is telling it like it is. For once, cheesy case-studies of happy customers are not dominating the pages - we are seeing real people who have been roundly ripped off.
Somehow I doubt that the FSA will bring these greedy providers and sellers of PPI to their knees. So let's hope the press continues to tell these PPI extortionists: "Your days are numbered." IT