Mr J Winterstein v London Borough of Camden [76288/1]

When Mr R joined the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) in January 2006 he completed a nomination form nominating his partner (Ms W) and his sister (Miss R) to receive any death lump sum payable in equal shares. He subsequently married Ms W in April 2007. Mr R died in service in January 2008 two months after being diagnosed with cancer. At the time of his death, Ms W was six months pregnant with their child. Their daughter was born in April 2008.

Ms W brought a complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman against the London Borough Camden (Camden) for paying her only half of the available lump sum death benefi t. The other half was paid to Miss R in accordance with the nomination form.

Ms W said that her husband had been focusing solely on surviving and had not thought to update his nomination form. Miss R said that her brother knew the severity of his illness and had ample opportunity to change his nomination form. The Director of Finance at Camden (D), who took the decision, said that he did not think there were suffi cient grounds for him to overturn the clearly expressed wish of Mr R as stated in his nomination form.

The Ombudsman found that D had failed to ask himself the correct questions. D should have asked himself who the potential benefi ciaries were and how the benefi t should be distributed among them. Instead he had approached the question from the starting point that the nomination form should be followed, unless there was a good reason not to do so. D also failed to make proper enquiries of the competing potential benefi ciaries before taking a decision.

Comment

Trustees who have ever had practical training in this area will know that they have a trust law duty to take account of all relevant factors before exercising a discretion. The nomination form is just one such factor and should not be blindly followed to the exclusion of all other evidence. When considering what weight to place on the form, trustees should ensure that they take account of any material changes in the member’s circumstances since it was completed. An unborn child is surely a material change in personal circumstances.