The report recommends that the TPO and FOS build on the existing memorandum of understanding between them to develop more collaborative processes, ensure clarity on to which service consumers are directed and put named contacts in place to discuss specific cases which may need to be transferred. It is also recommending both services collect better data on transferred cases and areas of overlap, to help the government establish whether further intervention is needed in future.
"The review points out that TPO and FOS could reach different conclusions on the same facts," said pensions expert Hayley Goldstone of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law. "It correctly states that 'a knowledgeable customer, who was able to find out what organisation would be more likely to determine in their favour - or give a larger award - is at an advantage over less savvy customers' and 'well-resourced pension schemes are also able to use the overlapping remits to their advantage, signposting customers to the organisation they think more likely to rule in their favour'."
"We agree that this could lead to unfairness and injustice. Although a memorandum of understanding exists between FOS and TPO, we agree with the review's conclusions that more needs to be done to avoid misdirection of customers and ensure all cases are dealt with appropriately," she said.
The review made some recommendations aimed at improving TPO governance, including recruiting non-executive directors and a chief operating officer as a first step to implementing a full board structure. However, these recommendations "are unlikely to have immediate direct impact on complainants and those responding to a complaint", Goldstone said.
Other recommendations include refreshing key performance indicators to reflect TPO's expanded remit; better external clarification of the appropriateness and independence of early resolution; seeking and publishing more regular customer feedback; and fully refreshing the TPO website to an agreed timetable.
"The review reports that some in the pensions industry have suggested the trialling of better communication tools, including web chat, to prevent customers contacting TPO with unsuitable cases," said Goldstone. "This may be somewhat overly ambitious at this time, but any additional resources that ensure that complainants understand how TPO can help them, and what TPO can't do, would save a lot of time for all concerned."