Pensions Ombudsman to take pro-active legal role after liberation court battle

Jenna Towler reports...

The Pensions Ombudsman is to increase its participation in legal appeals due to the outcome of the Royal London liberation case earlier this year.

The contentious decision, in Hughes v Royal London, ended up in the High Court after the provider blocked a suspect pension transfer.

The Pension Ombudsman had originally ruled in favour of Royal London, however, the case was successfully appealed to the High Court which overturned that decision. Legal experts said in February the outcome left savers at “greater risk” from pension scams.

The Pensions Ombudsman, Anthony Arter, said the case made him reconsider the office’s position of rarely getting involved in legal disputes. Previously it only got involved if an appeal raised questions affecting the ombudsman’s legal jurisdiction or internal procedures.

However, it said today: “Our participation will be more pro-active and will be considered against the backdrop of seeking to assist the court.”

It said it may get involved where a legal decision could have wider implications for the pensions industry, such as in pension liberation cases or actions involving auto-enrolment.

It said each case would be individually considered and the ombudsman would not look to participate in all appeals or to set any precedent when making a decision about participating.

Pensions Ombudsman legal director Claire Ryan said: “Widening the circumstances where the ombudsman may look to intervene in appeals of determinations was carefully considered and is supported by the Department for Work and Pensions.

“We believe that the pensions industry and parties to complaints will welcome the change.”