UK - UK life insurance firm Norwich Union is still attempting to track down over 6,000 people who were thought to be members of the UK trawlermen defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, after it was found some members had never received payouts.

The firm has been trying to trace members for almost two years after Alan Johnson, the Member of Parliament for Hull Trawlermen scheme members, after it was discovered men who had contributed for many years have never received pension benefits from the scheme.

A further investigation of the arrangement found payments are thought to have been made to trustees of this scheme but it is unclear at this stage whether payments ever reached the members, as in at least 20 cases there is no evidence to confirm whether benefit payouts reached their bank accounts and members have no recollection of receiving them.

Since this discovery, Norwich Union - in its capacity as administrator to the seven trawlermen schemes - has been trying to trace all members but the process has been an arduous task, according to a spokeswoman, as the information they were given on individuals was their date of birth and surname, but no addresses or national insurance numbers.

Thanks to an extensive search through tracing agencies and credit agencies such as Experian, including the Department for Work and Pensions tracing agency, advertisements in newspapers, as well as information distributed through libraries and other resources, NU has managed to find 6,092 of the potential 13,000 members or their families, and has now paid out around £3.8m in benefits and repaid contributions.

That said, NU is still facing difficulty in identifying members, says the spokeswoman as some of the companies were wound up when the fishing industry went into significant decline.

To complicate matters further, it is unclear what information was communicated to members at that time as sources at Norwich Union say they have uncovered one case where it is thought the pension contributions were repaid to the member at the time but were thought by that member to instead be a redundancy payment, so saw no reinvestment.

Some members have questioned whether fraud has been committed as payouts could have been sent to trustees many years ago but officials are unable to establish to whom they were paid and whether they reached members because UK law requires associated documents and bank statements be kept for only seven years.

The trawlermen's DB schemes were set up in the days of ‘pre-Maxwell' regulation so there were no significant requirements at that time to ensure pension scheme trustees had the detailed information required to identify members and there were no checks in place to ensure payments were reaching individuals.

Sources they believe there is unlikely to be any evidence of fraud by former trustees as such circumstances are likely to be identifiable through Norwich Union's investigations.

However, Alan Johnson MP has written to The Pensions Regulator to seek clarity on the regulatory status of these schemes and how they should be treated.

Officials at Norwich Union say they are awaiting a reply.

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