Sanderson concerned an application for an ill-health early retirement pension from the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Under the relevant LGPS regulations, it is the employer who decides whether the member meets the incapacity threshold. In Sanderson, the employer relied on a single medical report produced by an independent medical practitioner when considering the applicant's case. That report contradicted that of another health professional, although it was not clear whether the employer was aware of that. The Ombudsman held that the employer had, in effect, presented the opinion of an independent medical expert as its decision, and so had not made a decision at all "in the proper sense". This amounted to maladministration. In considering one piece of evidence, the employer had in effect "been so selective in the evidence as to give itself no freedom to fully consider Mrs Sanderson’s case. It had one piece of evidence, which it was in the circumstance bound to follow, thus fettering its decision".
The Ombudsman also held that the handling of the member's complaint under the internal dispute resolution procedure had been flawed.
Comment: This case demonstrates that trustees and employers should be careful not to rely on a single medical report, when alternative medical evidence is available, when considering whether an applicant meets incapacity criteria. Trustees and employers should also note that the employer's case was weakened in Sanderson by poor presentation and communication of the decision to the member. For example, the employer had referred to "Dr English's assessment" in the letter informing Mrs Sanderson of the decision; the employer also failed to give Mrs Sanderson any further reasons for the decision, even though she was expected to appeal.