Pensions Ombudsman  

Ombudsman struggles to fill adjudicator roles

Ombudsman struggles to fill adjudicator roles

The Pensions Ombudsman has missed its complaints handling target because of a shortage of adjudicators.

In its annual report published last Thursday (July 18), the Pensions Ombudsman said it had received 8,205 phone enquiries and 5,759 written enquiries in 2018/19.

It completed 1,268 investigations, resolved 2,165 early resolution cases and 1,361 written quick responses (complaints that are resolvable with minimum intervention).

Four fifths (80 per cent) of cases were resolved informally by the adjudicators with a further 8 per cent being resolved without an ombudsman’s decision; meaning almost 90 per cent were resolved without the need for an ombudsman’s intervention.

A third (28 per cent) of cases formally decided by an ombudsman were upheld or partly upheld.

However, a drop in adjudicator numbers resulted in the Pensions Ombudsman closing fewer investigations than originally planned.

It completed 1,268 investigations in 2018/19, excluding early resolution cases, but this was 9 per cent fewer than planned.

The ombudsman stated it was unable to reach its target because its adjudicator numbers had dropped by 16 per cent by the end of 2018/19 and it struggled to replace them. 

The ombudsman stated: "We had a few leavers from this area and it has proved to be extremely difficult to replace this very specialist resource.

"Had we been able to replace all the leavers, we would have met our objective."

It also said that an office move, changes to IT systems and integrating The Pensions Advisory Service’s (Tpas) dispute resolution team into the Pensions Ombudsman played a role as time was needed to familiarise the staff with new people and processes which reduced the time available to focus on the cases.  

The Pensions Ombudsman integrated Tpas’ early resolution team into the organisation in March 2018 after Tpas became part of the single financial advice body later that year. 

On the other hand, the ombudsman closed 2,165 early resolution cases, reaching 99 per cent of its target.

Early resolution cases are when complaints are resolved informally at an early stage before the issues have been formally considered by the parties.

Anthony Arter, Pensions Ombudsman, said: "It has been another incredibly busy and exciting year for us as the changes from 2017/18 have had a chance to bed in. This is our first annual report to include the work of the early resolution team that incorporates 240 volunteer pension specialists.

"Although we have seen only a modest increase in the number of complaints accepted for investigation, the number of early resolution cases we took on was 50 per cent higher than anticipated, meaning our output has tripled overall."

He added: "Our expanded remit and associated increase in headcount have necessitated an ongoing review of our internal systems and processes to make sure we have the right resources in place to respond to our customers’ needs."

The annual report also showed the majority of complaints to the Pensions Ombudsman last year concerned pension transfers.