Pensioners pursuing the government for compensation after their pension schemes went bust will find out tomorrow if they have won their latest court battle.
The High Court has confirmed the Judge overseeing the judicial review of the case brought against the government for dismissing the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report will be delivered on 21 February - less than two weeks after the case was heard.
Dr Ros Altmann, an independent pensions consultant and former government adviser on pensions, says it is positive to see the verdict is being delivered exceptionally fast in a bid to reduce the anguish of those affected.
She adds: “It is encouraging that at least the judiciary can recognise the urgency of this case, even if the government itself is not doing so. If we win this case, it will be the third defeat for the government on this issue - the third verdict against them and hopefully they will not just ignore this, as they have done the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Public Administration Select Committee.”
Altmann points out the judicial review is actually a case about British democracy, as no Ministers should be able to just 'disagree' with their own Parliamentary Ombudsman, as this is meant to be one of our constitutional safeguards, to prevent governments from being able to harm innocent citizens without fear of repercussions.
She says: “If we win, I hope the government will finally see that it has to wake up and recognise its responsibility for what has happened. How long can it try to bury its head in the sand and hope the problems will go away?”
Campaigners lodged an appeal for a Judicial Review after the DWP rejected the findings of the Ombudsman’s report which outlined the findings of her inquiry into the actions of government bodies in relation to the security of final salary occupational pensions.
The report, which was published in March 2006, found the government guilty of maladministration and suggested compensation should be provided for around 85,000 people who had lost their pensions following the collapse of their pension scheme or employer.
However, Altmann says the government’s defence in dismissing the Ombudsman’s report was a “disgrace”, “jaw-dropping”, and “untenable” as they effectively argued the Ombudsman investigation process is not as robust as a court of law because it is not an adversarial process and does not require the same kind of evidence to be proven.
But she says: “On the basis of this logic, any financial company who is found guilty by the Financial Services Ombudsman (FOS) could argue this was not a proper process and they 'do not agree' with the conclusions of the investigation.
“Everyone who complained to the ombudsman would have to prove that they were mis-sold, misled by their adviser, that they have lost out as a result of this and prove what they would have done instead.”
Altmann also argues while the DWP has been saying since 2004 it wants to help those who have lost their pensions through no fault of their own, and it has set aside money to help, she says the people affected are just not receiving the help they need.
She believes the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), the predecessor to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), is “political spin at its worst”, as it is now 2007 and of the 10,000 people affected who are already past their pension age, less than 1000 have had a penny of help from the government.
Altmann warns: “If we lose this case, it will be a sad day for the future of this country, since there will be no independent oversight of Ministers' behaviour. This government has tried to over-ride all due process and, even worse, is still trying to pretend that it cares and wants to help. Meanwhile, it has tried to bully the victims into submission by threatening to pursue them for huge amounts of legal fees if they lose the case.”
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Nyree Stewart on 020 7034 2681 or email [email protected]IFAonline
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