The number of pension liberation complaints under investigation by the Pensions Ombudsman (PO) has risen to 41, IFAonline's sister title Professional Pension has revealed.
It was previously understood the PO was examining nine cases, including eight complaints from members whose transfer request had been delayed or refused by trustees.
A ninth case was thought to relate to a transfer that was approved by trustees, but resulted in significant losses for the member due to the nature of the receiving vehicle.
Decisions in those cases, which were reported in October, were expected to be published before the end of 2013.
A PO spokesperson confirmed the office was looking into a total of 41 case referrals, for the year from April 2013 to date.
Although there are preliminary decisions in a number of cases, an exact publication timeline could not be given.
The spokesperson said: "The PO may be in a position to publish some determinations before the end of March.
"We cannot be precise as to timings at this stage as the parties are yet to comment on the ombudsman's preliminary decision and their representations will then be considered before a final determination is made."
While the PO determinations are expected to provide some guidance for trustees, lawyers have expressed concerns trustees face uncertainty as they await the outcome.
Squire Sanders associate Craig Thomas said there is "almost nothing trustees can do" in law to stop members taking transfer values, which makes the outcome of the PO complaints of such interest.
Thomas said it is "difficult to see" how a member's statutory right to a transfer value could be defeated by trustees. As such, once a member makes the request, trustees are tied into the legal timeline for transfers.
He said: "We know we've got the PO looking at these cases, and committees and action groups being formed to combat these in the future, but trustees have to keep in mind the timeline in law.
"While it might be feasible delaying transfers up to the maximum time in order to wait for any developments, I don't think they can go beyond that."
Thomas added: "Ultimately the PO cases should clarify the situation for trustees."
Sackers partner Katherine Dandy said it is "a great pity" the expected determinations have been delayed, as there is "a golden opportunity" for the ombudsman to demonstrate how trustees should handle suspected liberation transfers.
However, while "a clear gesture of support" from the PO is welcome, Dandy warned there may be some potential for the cases "to undo some of the good work the industry is doing".
Although she has "a lot of confidence" in the PO's decisions, the disputes expert said any rulings against trustees must be judged on the facts of the case when they are made public.
She said: "The danger is a complaint may arise when trustees have prevented a transfer but not taken reasonable steps to make enquiries before deciding it. They may have got to the right answer, but not asked the right question."
Dandy added: "Trustees need some support and guidance on liberation. TPR don't seem to be giving it, they're very much leaving it to trustees to deal with these things."
A TPR spokeswoman said the regulator recognises trustees face "a difficult balancing act when dealing with transfer requests".
She said: "We continue to have productive discussions with the industry, including potential changes to transfer legislation, should the government consider this to be viable. However, it's clear that there is no silver bullet and this can only ever be one part of the solution."
TPR is also part of The Pension Liberation Industry Group which launched this month (PP Online, 3 February).
Cautious, Balanced & Dynamic Growth
Cowardly, boring or sensible
Latest news and analysis
‘Most significant’ upgrade since launch
Changes happening over coming months