The Pensions Ombudsman has declined to uphold a complaint by a DB scheme member regarding the information provided on joining the scheme. The member, Mrs D, claimed the information lacked details about the scheme’s investments and so she could not make an informed choice about whether joining the scheme was compatible with her religious beliefs.
Mrs D’s complaint to the Ombudsman initially appeared to focus on the incompatibility of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund’s investments with Sharia law principles. Mrs D, a Muslim, was particularly concerned about the investment in private company shares, as well as the earning of interest on cash deposits. However, after discussion between the parties and the adjudicator, it was established that the dispute itself concerned the level of information provided about the scheme and its workings, rather than the religious compatibility of the scheme itself.
The first-level adjudicator stated that members who hold strong religious beliefs are responsible for determining whether a scheme is suitable for their needs. This was upheld by the Ombudsman, who dismissed the complaint. The adjudicator’s statement set the tone for the resolution of the dispute, and provides a clear statement about responsibility for these matters that will assist members and trustees going forward.
Mrs D referred to requirements to provide specific information contained in The Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013 and the Public Service Toolkit in support of her claim. The Ombudsman indicated that several of these referred to non-DB schemes only, or were irrelevant due to other reasons. The information that Mrs D alleged should have been provided was not required under the relevant rules, and so her complaint could not be upheld.
Trustees can take comfort that there is no need update initial member communications to reflect issues which may affect those with strong religious or political beliefs. The decision provides useful confirmation that affected members are responsible for making enquiries to satisfy themselves that the scheme is suitable for their requirements, rather than placing that burden on Trustees. However, Trustees must be careful to regularly review member materials and ensure that the information they do provide to members is complete, accurate, and up-to-date.