Pensions Ombudsman to overhaul dispute resolution

Out-Law News | 24 Aug 2018 | 9:39 am | 2 min. read

The Pensions Ombudsman is planning to overhaul the way it handles pensions disputes over the coming year, it has said.

The changes build on the merger of the dispute resolution functions of the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) with those of the Pensions Ombudsman earlier this year. They will include allocating cases to staff based on resource capacity and priority, improving caseload management and better internal triage of disputes, according to the service's recently-published corporate plan (20-page / 1.1MB PDF).

The Pensions Ombudsman has also committed to work closely with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in order to address the "jurisdictional overlap" between its role and that of the FOS. The Pensions Ombudsman and FOS recently signed a new memorandum of understanding to clarify their respective roles, which is due for review towards the end of this year.

The number of complaints received by the Pensions Ombudsman for resolution has increased by an average of 7% per year over the past three years, according to the report. Based on this experience, it is expecting a further increase in the coming year.

"For some time we have been working on simplifying our own processes and improving performance in terms of quality of output and the time taken to bring disputes to a conclusion," said chief ombudsman Anthony Arter. "We are already seeing results from the changes we have implemented with around 70% of cases resolved informally and timescales significantly reduced."

"Our latest initiative has been to restructure our casework function to enable us to accommodate our new ways of working. We now want to build on this fundamental change," he said.

The corporate plan sets out the Pensions Ombudsman's priorities for the next three years, running until 2020-21. It intends to introduce a new case management system and advanced document management system, and improve case allocation and quality assurance processes in the coming year.

The Pensions Ombudsman has set a target of completing 1,400 investigations in 2018-19, according to its plan. It is also aiming to complete new investigations within an average of six months from the date of receipt of a valid application.

"From the off, Anthony Arter recognised that the Pensions Ombudsman's service needed to be overhauled to cope with the increasing number of pensions disputes," said pensions dispute resolution expert Hayley Goldstone of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"We've already seen some of welcome changes such as the improved turnaround time of complaints and the integration of TPAS. But the Pensions Ombudsman has now outlined a plan to have one place to resolve workplace and personal pension complaints - where scheme members are already having to grapple with complex issues they don't need the added complication of a myriad of dispute resolution forums to choose from. A 'one-stop shop' is much needed and will benefit both the complainant and the respondents," she said.