Notable that the Pensions Ombudsman considers complaints will “undoubtedly” increase due to the impact of Covid-19.
This raises the vital question of what steps trustees and employers can take to address this growing risk.
From our work with trustee boards key themes are:
- to review scheme rules (and interaction with statute) for any member exercise or request. In doing so important considerations are:
(i) is the exercise within the scope of the trustees’ powers under the rules?
(ii) do the rules need amending?
(iii) what is the nature of the trustees’ function, is it a duty, discretion or power?
- To determine what degree of member consent is required for any exercise. If consent is required how will this be evidenced and recorded?
- To have a clear audit of the trustees’ decision making process, including where appropriate setting out the rationale for conclusions.
- Considering how your decision is aligned with previous decisions and to consider potential future cases. Is there a clear policy for the decision in question? Is the decision within that policy? Is the policy suitably flexible?
For employers, likewise ensuring that any option meets any conditions under scheme rules and also that consent and decision making processes are properly audited will be important to reduce the risk of future challenge.
Also as government support begins to taper in areas such as auto enrolment, employers will need to ensure that they meet their statutory obligations and that their interaction with employees is not seen as inappropriately incentivising staff regarding their auto enrolment and other pensions related decisions.
The Ombudsman commented recently that:
“Public sector ombudsmen will be inundated with complaints as a result of Covid-19 and I don’t think pensions will be any exception to that,”
As such the need to review decision making process is of particular importance now.
The number of complaints to The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) will “undoubtedly” increase due to the impact of Covid-19, according to Pensions Ombudsman, Anthony Arter. In response to questions from the Work and Pensions Committee, Arter forecast that the likely increase in scam activity, as fraudsters look to target those struggling financially, would result in an increase in complaints. “Public sector ombudsmen will be inundated with complaints as a result of Covid-19 and I don’t think pensions will be any exception to that,” Arter stated.