Long-awaited changes to the dispute resolution requirements of the Pensions Act 1995 are set to come into force in April next year. The Government has issued for consultation a set of draft regulations (the Occupational Pension Schemes (Internal Dispute Resolution Procedures Consequential and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008), which will enable occupational pension schemes to simplify their internal dispute resolution procedures. The requirement for the current two-stage procedure with its strict time limits will be replaced by the option to retain the two-stage process or to move to a simpler one-stage process. Consultation on the draft regulations runs until 18 December 2007 and the consultation paper plus draft regulations are available at www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2007/occ-pen-consult/ops-idrpcmaregs08pdf.
In a separate move, the Pensions Regulator has issued its own consultation document on the ‘Dispute resolution – reasonable periods’ code of practice which it is proposing to implement alongside the new IDRP regulations referred to above. The amended version of the IDRP provisions in the Pensions Act 1995 requires trustees to issue decisions and to notify the applicant of the decision within a ‘reasonable period’. The draft code of practice sets out what the Regulator considers to be ‘reasonable’ in these circumstances. For example, it states that the Regulator generally expects disputes being considered by trustees to be decided, and the applicant notified of the decision, no more than four months after receipt of the application. Consultation on the draft code of practice runs until 19 December 2007, and a copy of the consultation paper is available at www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/pdf/ConsultationDocumentDisputeResolutionCoP.pdf.