At the end of 2018, the DWP and the Pensions Ombudsman launched a consultation on suggested changes to the jurisdiction of the Pensions Ombudsman. The main focus of the consultation was dispute resolution, including how best to introduce a new early resolution service. However, respondents were also asked to give their views on an extension of the Pensions Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in respect of group personal pension plans.
On 8 August 2019, the consultation response was published.
The consultation response says that the government supports the introduction of a new, informal, ‘Early Resolution Service’, to be provided by the Pensions Ombudsman’s Office.
The idea is that the ERS could “offer a route for resolving complaints that are less complex in nature, allowing parties to explore a route to resolution that is relatively quicker and therefore more cost-effective, in a potentially less formal manner”.
Use of the ERS would be voluntary: the parties would have to agree.
It is expected that, in the “majority” of cases, the ERS would be used before a complaint went through a scheme’s IDRP.
If the parties agreed a settlement as a result of using the ERS, then the Pensions Ombudsman would have the power to close the case, but the parties would need to record and enforce their own settlement.
If the parties do not agree to use the ERS, or if the complaint is not resolved as a result of using the ERS, then the member/beneficiary will be able to make an IDRP application and, if necessary, take their complaint through to the Pensions Ombudsman.
The government also intends to make two further changes:
The consultation response does not give a timetable for making these changes.
It is possible that draft legislation will be included in the next Pensions Bill. However, the consultation response also refers to other work streams. For example, the DWP is going to work with the Pensions Ombudsman on some of the concerns that were raised about the Early Resolution Service. These concerns included, for example, that: the Pensions Ombudsman’s office should not be seen as an advocate for complainants; without prejudice discussions in an early resolution procedure should not be referred to if a complaint does not settle and goes on to the Pensions Ombudsman; and complaints without merit should still be dismissed at the early resolution stage (the ERS should not become “a means to apply pressure for paying members off”).
At the moment, the early resolution team at the Pensions Ombudsman’s office provides the same, extremely valuable, assistance to members that was provided by the TPAS advisers before they transferred across. The Early Resolution Service will be slightly different and we look forward to seeing it develop. We will also follow, with interest, the development of any flexibility to bypass the IDRP.
12 August 2019