Streamlined Pensions Ombudsman process resolves 95% of cases before determination stage

Hope William-Smith reports

Almost all (95%) investigations presented to The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) were completed without needing a determination, following changes to simplify the complaints process.

TPO outlined the figure in its 2019/20 annual report and accounts, published on Thursday (16 July), which also showed the ombudsman had made progress on its key process of simplifying complaints.

Ombudsman Anthony Arter said: “By resolving complaints earlier in the process, we save all parties from having to go through lengthier processes which can be both stressful for complainants and resource-intensive for respondents.”

TPO said the most common topics of completed investigations over the past 12 months had related to transfers – including issues around the calculation of values or delays in payments – as well as misquoting and misinformation, and ill health issues.

TPO’s contact team dealt saw a 41% year-on-year increase in telephone enquiries to total 11,553 over 2019/20. A total of 8,977 written enquiries also came to the team, which represented a 24% increase on 2018/19.

Even prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 in March, Arter added TPO has faced “higher than ever” demand for its services.

He said: “Our change in approach of resolving complaints at an earlier stage means we have seen a decrease in the number of complaints taken on as adjudication investigations and a 16% increase in the number of complaints taken on as early resolution investigations.”

The ombudsman also took on 1,192 new adjudication investigations and resolved 1,204 and took on 2,400 early resolution investigations, of which 2,264 were resolved. These cases were dealt with in an average of 5.3 and 3.9 months respectively.

Of cases formally decided by the ombudsman during 2019/20, close to a third (29%) were upheld at least in part.

Cases relating to the Pension Protection Fund formed “a small part” of TPO’s workload according to the accounts, with eight matters investigated and closed in 2019/20.

TPO closed a number of cases equivalent to 96.5% against a target of 90% and had 11% of open investigations aged more than 12 months against a target of 10%.

Enquiry rates were dealt with at a rate of 98.1% for 2019/20, representing 109% of TPO’s 90% target.

This comes during what Arter labelled a “transformational” year for TPO which saw the introduction of an interim chair and corporate board, an extension of its stakeholder engagement team and volunteer support team, and a new website launched. The ombudsman is also currently recruiting for a new chair to replace interim chairwoman Caroline Rookes. A TPO spokesman told PA’s sister publication Professional Pensions that the appointment will be made in September.

Arter said: “It has been another incredibly busy and exciting year for us as our transformational journey continues. These have been challenging times with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic towards the end.”