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UK Ombudsman critical of government

UK - The UK’s Pensions Ombudsman has strongly criticised the lack of support his office is getting from the government

David Laverick, pensions ombudsman, said in his annual report to secretary of state for work and pensions Andrew Smith that he does not have the staff or IT equipment to deal properly with the complaints he receives. He said that as a result some investigations are taking “far too long”.

The number of investigations carried out by the office increased by 55% from 679 to 1050 in the year ending March 2004. This is the first time since the pensions ombudsman office was created in 1991 that investigations have topped 1000.

In spite of this, Laverick said, the Department of Work and pensions (DWP) has been slow to provide him with the resources he needs. He said he was operating with “less resources than I judged necessary”.

“The volume of casework makes it difficult to progress all cases effectively and efficiently. I have had particular difficulty with my personal time management undertaking the work previously shouldered by the casework director.”

Laverick said he had not been given the additional staff he requested. He said he was told initially that the government could not provide any more resources. He received approval to recruit staff in November 2003. “By then this was not enough to cope with the amount of work I hand which by then had increased,” he said.

He said he welcomed the provision in the Pension Bill which will allow the appointment of one or more deputy ombudsmen. “The present legislation inevitably means that the Ombudsman acts as a bottleneck.”

Laverick also criticised the slowness of the DWP in implanting the IT system which supports the Pension Ombudsman. “I remain concerned about the time this is taking and am hampered by the lack of a reliable system providing the management information I seek.”

He also complained that the courts were interpreting the powers of the Ombudsman too narrowly. In a judgement in Legal & General Assurance Society Ltd versus CCA Stationery, the judge said that the Pensions Ombudsman could not make an order of a kind which a court could not make.

Laverick commented: “Ombudsmen are intended to provide remedies in circumstances and where appropriate of a kind which differ from those of the course.”

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