The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) is to get new powers to provide an early resolution service, which is expected to improve customer experience.
In a consultation published today (December 19) the Department for Work and Pensions proposed a series of measures that would allow TPO to centralise decision making and ensure cost effectiveness.
The body should provide an early resolution service, including a function for resolution of disputes before a determination, and it should be allowed to ‘mediate’ and ‘resolve’ complaints and disputes, the DWP stated.
At the same time TPO will be able to handle complaints from employers regarding the pension scheme they chose for their staff.
The new powers follow the integration of The Pensions Advisory Service (Tpas) dispute resolution function into the Ombudsman, which completed in April.
At the time, a team and volunteer network of more than 350 people was moved to the Ombudsman, in a process aimed at simplifying the customer journey and improving complaints handling.
The government also intends to allow TPO to make any award at the end of a new process, and to close the case if an agreement has been reached by all parties.
The resolution body will be allowed to accept a complaint before an occupational pension scheme’s internal dispute resolution procedure has commenced.
A spokesperson at TPO said: "This consultation follows the transfer of the dispute resolution function to TPO from Tpas and reflects both the continuation of the previous good work and TPO’s progression to a more modern, streamlined service which is ideally suited to the current pensions and complaints handling environment.
"The proposals enable TPO to use our expertise to seek the earliest and most appropriate way of resolving issues between the parties, which is to the benefit of all, while maintaining the existing ability to request a formal determination by an ombudsman."
DWP is also proposing that employers who choose a group personal pension (GPP) arrangement for their workers can make complaints or refer disputes on their own behalf to The Pensions Ombudsman against the person responsible for the management of the scheme.
Since the introduction of auto-enrolment in 2012, there has been an increase in small and micro-enterprises choosing GPP’s as the qualifying scheme, in line with their staging dates, the DWP stated.
However, current legislation doesn’t allow an employer to bring a claim against the provider or administrator on behalf of itself, for example in respect of maladministration of a GPP, it added.
The TPO spokesperson added this was a "most welcome and long sought clarification" to the existing legislation.
Malcolm McLean, senior consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said the proposed new powers for the ombudsman were "sensible" and should be welcomed.
He said: "The greater flexibility on early dispute resolution reflects the former Tpas role in this area – one more akin to mediation rather than the formal adjudication role required of The Pensions Ombudsman.