The most common single source of complaints against pension schemes was decisions not to award ill-health pensions, the Pensions Ombudsman says in its Annual Report and Accounts for 2007/8 .
It says ill-health benefits will often be contentious not only because they sometimes start at a relatively early age and therefore will be very valuable and expensive, but there will sometimes be conflicting medical evidence involving very difficult and sensitive issues, such as whether a condition is likely to be permanent.
According to the report, the number of complains in this area is unsurprising as “the scheme member’s income for the rest of their life is at issue at a time of stress, and there are difficult matters of judgment and assessment of medical evidence involved, rather than clear cut facts.”
Looking across the number of complaints, new Pensions Ombudsman Tony King says solid progress has been made in reducing the age of cases in hand and for the third consecutive year more cases were closed than were taken on.
The number of new cases during the year was marginally up on the previous year’s 702 (after adjustment for a distorting group of over 250 identical cases). But the report notes there is nothing statistically significant in the change as the underlying trend has been slightly downward in previous years.
A total of 1,039 cases were closed, many by informal resolution, although over 600 needed a binding determination by the Pensions Ombudsman or the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman (Charlie Gordon).
The Pensions Ombudsman deals with complaints about administration of occupational and personal pensions while the Financial Ombudsman Service deals with complaints about pension sales and advice.
In June 2007 the Government accepted a recommendation, subject to legislation, that both Ombudsman services should be combined to create a pensions jurisdiction within the Financial Ombudsman Service.
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