Pensions Ombudsman sees 26% increase in cases investigated

Written by Natalie Tuck

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) has seen a 26 per cent increase in the number of cases it accepted for investigation in the past year, it has revealed.

Publishing its Annual Report and Accounts for 2017/18 TPO revealed a number of changes it has undertaken throughout the year, including the merger of The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) dispute resolution team.

TPO received 6,319 enquires in 2017/18, an increase of 5 per cent on 2016/17, and took on 1,676 cases for investigation, 265 more than the previous year. It completed 1,591 investigations, which was less than planned, but 13 per cent more than in 2016/17, with a similar adjudicator resource. It cleared its backlog with the exception of 20 cases, which it was unable to complete due to reasons outside its control.

Of the cases taken on, 70 per cent were resolved informally by a TPO adjudicator, and 30 per cent formally with an Ombudsman’s decision. Twenty-nine per cent of cases formally decided by an Ombudsman were upheld or partly upheld. TPO also revealed that it had 14 referrals for cases concerning the Pension Protection Fund in the past year, with three accepted for investigation.

Complaints about transfers (such as the calculation or payment of transfer values), the incorrect calculation of benefits and the failure to act on instructions continued to be the most common topics of completed investigations.

TPO completed investigations in an average of five months, against a target of seven months. Forty-one per cent of completed cases were resolved or the complaint withdrawn and 25 per cent of cases were closed following the acceptance of an adjudicator’s opinion; thirty-one per cent of complaints were completed by a determination following an adjudicator’s opinion; two per cent of complaints resulted in a determination following an Ombudsman’s Preliminary Decision– the percentage is low because far fewer investigations follow this very formal process.

Pensions Ombudsman Anthony Arter described it as an “exciting year” with a “number of important changes and achievements”.

“In March this year, we welcomed 15 staff and 240 volunteers from TPAS’ dispute resolution team. We are the first ombudsman service to incorporate volunteers into its service but more importantly, it is now easier and quicker for our customers to resolve their pension disputes. To support this new structure, we have streamlined our processes so that every enquiry or complaint is passed to the team that can most effectively deal with it; resolving it as quickly as possible; avoiding duplication as much as possible; and with no loss of quality.”

Earlier this year, the service moved offices to a government hub in Canary Wharf. Arter said he expects the move to improve efficiency through the implementation of smarter and more flexible working practices.

“As part of our Digitalisation Programme, we have introduced new technology including a new cloud platform; innovative softphone technology; and collaboration tools; to support more agile ways of working. A smarter working policy supports staff in our new ways of working, giving them the resources they need to focus on the job in hand. Although it’s early days, our latest staff survey shows that 95 per cent of our staff feel positive about its introduction.”

“Despite the transformation process, last year we saw an increase of 26 per cent in the number of cases accepted for investigation. Time spent on the refinement of our processes has been well spent and we have maintained our average of resolving around 70 per cent of cases informally. With our overall timescales for closing cases halved to five months. This can only be good news for complainants and respondents, as it reduces the considerable stress, time and resources spent in the dispute process,” he said.

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