The Pensions Ombudsman has published his Annual Report and Accounts for 2012/13. As ever, the Report makes useful reading for those involved with disputes or potential disputes. It summarises the Ombudsman’s caseload, discusses the nature of complaints and provides an insight into his process.

Headlines

The Report shows that the office of the Ombudsman has faced another busy year, completing 954 investigations (up from 888 in the previous year) and reducing the average time taken to deal with each case by an average of one month (the figure is now 9.6 months).

What are disputes about?

In terms of subject matter, the highest single cause for complaint remains the treatment of ill-health pension applications (11% of cases), closely followed by complaints about incorrect calculation of benefits. The Ombudsman notes that complaints in the latter category are on the increase, in particular those concerning attempts by trustees to recoup overpayments made in error.

The Report refers to the pension industry’s expectation of an influx of cases on topical issues such as auto-enrolment and pensions liberation, but observes that this is still to begin in earnest. In relation to liberation, the Ombudsman notes that although he has not yet had any complaints from members as a result of having taken such a transfer, “we have one or two in the pipeline from people who have found their transfer has been frustrated by trustees in the interests of the member”. The Ombudsman considers it likely that there will be more complaints of both types.

As in previous years, there were only a handful of completed investigations under the Ombudsman’s dual role as PPF Ombudsman, reflecting the relatively small volume of such complaints.

Practice and process

The Ombudsman discusses a change in process which was trialled successfully during the year which allows his investigators to give a formal “opinion” stating the likely outcome of a reasonably straightforward case, in order to try to avoid having to go through the full process of a formal determination. Previously, the office had just written a letter to the complainant in such cases. The Ombudsman says that the new approach has been well received and appears to be assisting his office’s speed, consistency and quality, although “the option to use simple letters for simple cases still exists”.

Finally, the Ombudsman takes the opportunity to confirm that he has been re-appointed for a third (and last) term of office, which will end in 2017.

The Report can be found here.

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