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UK pensions complaints rise 26% - ombudsman

UK – Pensions complaints are increasing at such a rate, 26%, that the pensions ombudsman is finding it difficult to cope.

In the body’s annual report for 2002/2003, pensions ombudsman David Laverick said that nearly 4,000 complaints had been received – up from 26% from 2,946 the previous year and the highest number since the office was established in 1990.

The ombudsman attributed the increase largely to the high profile which pensions issues have had in the media this year.

Laverick complained himself that the extra volumes are becoming too much. "The bare facts are that in 2002-2003 I received 3,891 enquiries and dealt with 3,684. The net result is that despite a great deal of hard work from my staff and myself we have been failing to keep up with the incoming tide.

“The position is likely to be even more difficult in the current financial year. That is when the bulk of time needs to be spent on the work taken in last year and so far I have been allocated no additional resources to cope with that work."

Tensions between the courts and the ombudsman have also been rising over the issue of maladminstration. While the courts and the ombudsman both deal with breaches of law, maladministration does not necessarily mean that unlawful behaviour has taken place. That said, the ombudsman still regards maladministration as an issue that must be resolved.

“To argue that the Pensions Ombudsman should confine himself to the same territory as the Courts is to overlook the fact that it was not a Court which Parliament established to deal with complaints and disputes about pensions matters,” said Laverick.

Laverick has frequently expressed his concerns that UK legislation is not sufficiently protecting scheme members..

In his evidence to the select committee on work and pensions late last year he commented: “The present legislative arrangements may not provide sufficient protection against acts of dishonesty or incompetence by those charged with safeguarding, managing or otherwise doing acts connected with the administration of pensions funds.”

He further added: “Legislation has of course sough to protect the funds held in trust for members of occupational pension schemes, but in my view, gaps remain.”

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