IRELAND - The number of complaints received by the Pensions Ombudsman increased 56% in the first half of 2009, driven by the increased vigilance of pensions members.
Figures from the Ombudsman revealed it had received 908 complaints between January and June 2009, up from 582 in the first half of 2008, which is equivalent to more than seven new complaints every working day.
Despite the increased workload, however, the Ombudsman added the number of cases being closed had also increased by 115% to 942, up from 439 in the first six months of 2008, as many of the complaints were solved over the telephone or by email.
Paul Kenny, pension ombudsman, said his office is "under fairly intense pressure" as the 47% increase in complaints in the whole of 2008 has been dwarfed by the 2009 half-year increase of 56%.
He said: "The good news is that due to a combination of factors including our new case management system, increased skill levels within the office, together with an increased focus on mediation rather than having to go to Final Determination, we have actually reduced the number of live cases on hand, despite these massive increases in complaint numbers. I now have some 440 complaints under investigation at the moment."
Kenny, who has successfully brought a number of civil and criminal legal actions against employers refusing to co-operate with the Ombudsman, said the cases can be closed much quicker if the parties involved are open to mediation rather than forcing a final determination. (See earlier IPE articles: Builder arrested in Ombudsman court case and Court issues €5,000 fine for obstructing pension ombudsman)
He pointed out that his caseload history showed only a "tiny number" of his final determinations are appealed at the High Court and none have been overturned, so employers are realising that "forcing me to final determination is usually not in their best interests and agreement is reached".
Meanwhile, Kenny attributed the significant increase in complaints to members becoming "increasingly vigilant on how their pension funds are invested", particularly as companies are switching from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) schemes or a hybrid of the two.
"People are also much more alive to preserved benefits which they have acquired and how these benefits should be tracked. Such intense focus on pensions issued generally means an increase in my workload," he said.
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