What is the Standard Mark?
The Standard Mark has been developed by the Community Shares Unit, with the support of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The FCA does not approve or regulate community share offers that are exempt from the Financial Promotions Regulations. If you invest in community shares you have no right of complaint to the Financial Ombudsman or access to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Societies that apply for the Mark are assessed by a practitioner who is licensed by the Community Shares Unit. They assess the offer document, application form, the constitution of the society, and supporting evidence such as the annual accounts and business plan. They decide whether the offer is based on good practice. But they are not required to assess the strength of the business plan or to decide whether it is a safe investment.
The Standard Mark is not a guarantee that the business will be a success. You could still lose some or all of the money you invest. It does not give you any right to financial compensation if things go wrong. The main reason most people buy community shares is to support the business and its community purpose. If you want to buy shares for purely financial reasons you may want to consult a financial adviser.
Societies are asked to sign a Code of Practice requiring them, among other things, to give the public a right of complaint to the Community Shares Unit. The Community Shares Unit will remove the Mark from offers where the society is shown not to be complying with the Code of Practice.
How to complain
The types of complaint we deal with – There are four main types of complaint we can deal with relating to offer documents bearing the Community Shares Standard Mark:
The offer document misses out important information
The information in the offer document is purposefully wrong
The offer document is confusing or misleading in some important way
The society fails to respond to your complaint within a reasonable timescale, or you are unhappy with the response they have given.
Get in touch with the society – It is important that you contact the society first and give them a chance to deal with the problem. If you have problems contacting a society, we will help you. Societies are required to respond to queries and complaints within four weeks.
Ask us to look at your complaint – If you feel that the society hasn’t dealt with your complaint fairly, we can look into the problem for you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 214 1762. We will let you know what we find out, and what we can do to put things right. We aim to respond within eight weeks of receiving a complaint.
The Community Shares Unit welcomes any complaint regarding community shares, but it can only take action if the society has registered its offer for the Community Shares Standard Mark. The Mark should be displayed on the offer document, and the offer listed in the Community Shares Directory.
The Financial Conduct Authority, the body responsible for registering societies, maintains a directory of all societies. It has the powers to carry out inspections and investigations into a society at the request of the society’s members and has the ultimate power to sanction the management or even to de-register the society.
The Money Advice Service is an independent service set up by government that provides free and impartial advice on money matters. Its website includes a page on community shares.