Persons subject to enforcement action may be prepared to agree the amount of any financial penalty, or the length of any period of suspension or restriction,2 and other conditions which the FSA seeks to impose by way of such action. Such conditions might include, for example, the amount or mechanism for the payment of compensation to consumers. The FSA recognises the benefits of such agreements, in that they offer the potential for securing earlier redress or protection for consumers and the saving of cost to the person concerned and the FSA itself in contesting the financial penalty, suspension or restriction.2 The penalty that might otherwise be payable, or the length of the period of suspension or restriction that might otherwise be imposed,2 in respect of a breach by the person concerned will therefore be reduced to reflect the timing of any settlement agreement.
In appropriate cases the FSA's approach will be to negotiate with the person concerned to agree in principle the amount of a financial penalty having regard to the FSA’s statement of policy as set out in DEPP 6.5 to DEPP 6.5D and DEPP 6.6.1 (This starting figure will take no account of the existence of the settlement discount scheme described in this section.) Such amount ("A") will then be reduced by a percentage of A according to the stage in the process at which agreement is reached. The resulting figure ("B") will be the amount actually payable by the person concerned in respect of the breach. However, where part of a proposed financial penalty specifically equates to the disgorgement of profit accrued or loss avoided then the percentage reduction will not apply to that part of the penalty.1
The FSA has identified four stages of an action for these purposes:
the period from commencement of an investigation until the FSA has:
the period from the end of stage 1 until the expiry of the period for making written representations or, if sooner, the date on which the written representations are sent in response to the giving of a warning notice ("stage 2");
the period from the end of stage 2 until the giving of a decision notice ("stage 3");
the period after the end of stage 3, including proceedings before the Tribunal and any subsequent appeals ("stage 4").
The communication of the FSA's assessment of the appropriate penalty for the purposes of DEPP 6.7.3G (1)(a) need not be in a prescribed form but will include an indication of the breaches alleged by the FSA. It may include the provision of a draft warning notice.
The reductions in penalty will be as follows:
Stage at which agreement reached
In certain circumstances the person concerned may consider that it would have been possible to reach a settlement at an earlier stage in the action, and argue that it should be entitled to a greater percentage reduction in penalty than is suggested by the table at DEPP 6.7.3G (3). It may be, for example, that the FSA no longer wishes to pursue its action in respect of all of the acts or omissions previously alleged to give rise to the breach. In such cases, the person concerned might argue that it would have been prepared to agree an appropriate penalty at an earlier stage and should therefore benefit from the discount which would have been available at that time. Equally, FSA staff may consider that greater openness from the person concerned could have resulted in an earlier settlement.
Arguments of this nature risk compromising the goals of greater clarity and transparency in respect of the benefits of early settlement, and invite dispute in each case as to when an agreement might have been possible. It will not usually be appropriate therefore to argue for a greater reduction in the amount of penalty on the basis that settlement could have been achieved earlier.
However, in exceptional cases the FSA may accept that there has been a substantial change in the nature or seriousness of the action being taken against the person concerned, and that an agreement would have been possible at an earlier stage if the action had commenced on a different footing. In such cases the FSA and person concerned may agree that the amount of the reduction in penalty should reflect the stage at which a settlement might otherwise have been possible.