Change in Dealing with Disputes?

1 December 2015

Should the Pension Ombudsman Change the Way it Deals with Disputes? Anthony Arter, the Pensions Ombudsman. Image: bridgetrustees.com That"s the suggestion of Anthony Arter who is the new Pensions Ombudsman who came into his post in May this year.

What is the Pension Ombudsman Service?

The Pensions Ombudsman Service in an independent organisation that was set up to investigate and rule on complaints about how pensions are administered. Completely independent, the Pensions Ombudsman Service looks at both sides of the complaint without taking sides and has the legal authority to make decisions that are legally binding. The Pensions Ombudsman Service is funded by the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) and a general levy on pension schemes. The service is completely free to use.

How are cases dealt with at the moment?

When a complaint is made by a pension scheme member about the scheme"s administration, they have to go through the scheme"s own internal dispute resolution process. If they are not satisfied with the outcome of this, then they are then able to approach the Pensions Ombudsman, where their complaint is dealt with in one of three ways:

  • Informal opinion - this is made by an investigator
  • Formal determination - made by the Ombudsman or their deputy
  • Provisional decision - these are made in the most complex of cases and are then followed by a formal determination.

What are the suggested improvements?

Arter is suggesting that a lot more of complaints should be dealt with informally, rather than having to go for a full final determination.

"I think we should stop using decision letters, because I don't see the point, and increase the use of opinions, which in the past have only been used sparingly for very simple decisions," he told Professional Pensions. "The drafting of a provisional decision and then waiting three weeks before a determination is issued lengthens the process, in most cases unnecessarily."

Arter goes on to explain that all parties would be able to reject an opinion and seek a full decision, and also said that he intended to begin publishing opinions on the Pensions Ombudsman Service website.

Anthony Arter has only been in post since May but has already had an impact on the service. The first ever pensions lawyer to be appointed to the post, his previous experience has given him a valuable insight to the needs of the pensions industry. It is hoped he will go onto make even more improvements to the Pensions Ombudsman Service.

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