In March 2009 we reported that the Pensions Ombudsman had dismissed a complaint brought by Mrs Warwick against Mrs Ranger, as a trustee of the Rangers Pension Scheme, and United Pension Trustees Ltd, the independent trustee of the scheme.
Mrs Warwick complained that following the death of her partner Mr Ranger, his estranged wife Mrs Ranger, who was a trustee of the scheme and also a potential beneficiary, had a conflict of interest in the settlement of his death benefits. She also submitted a claim that the sale of property belonging to the scheme was not open, transparent or legal.
The Ombudsman dismissed both parts of the claim. The first part of the claim was dismissed on the basis that the scheme’s rules permitted a trustee to exercise a discretionary power even in circumstances where a conflict of interests existed. In addition, the “special position” of an independent trustee meant that the trustees’ joint decision was not invalidated by the “possibility of bias” on the part of another trustee. The second part of the claim was also dismissed on the grounds that the sale of scheme property was conducted through reputable firms of solicitors and valuers, and the independent trustee was kept informed of the progress of the transaction at all stages.
The Ombudsman considered that the potential conflict was cancelled out by the presence of the independent trustee.
Comment: this case serves as a reminder to trustees of the importance of managing effectively any potential and actual conflicts of interest which may arise. There are related guides available on the Norton Rose website e.g. see our Conflicts health check for pension scheme trustees and our related briefing note dated December 2008 which looks at the Regulator’s latest conflicts guidance.