Pensions Ombudsman  

Blow to steelworkers as Ombudsman throws out complaints

Blow to steelworkers as Ombudsman throws out complaints

The Pensions Ombudsman has rejected a number of complaints against the trustees of the British Steel Pension Scheme, leading to disappointment for steelworkers.

The complaints – which all include a point about the lack of information provided by the scheme trustees – concern cash equivalent transfer values and early retirement factors.

The Pensions Ombudsman accepted 229 complaints in total but gave final considerations in four lead cases.

The circumstances of each of the four lead cases differed slightly in terms of whether the member took a CETV; when, in relation to the change of calculation basis the member took their CETV; or whether the member retired early.

The ombudsman has decided to not uphold these complaints.

BSPS members were asked to decide by December 2017 whether to move their defined benefit pension pots to a new plan, BSPS II, or stay in the existing fund, which was then moved to the Pension Protection Fund as part of a restructuring of pension liabilities.

As a consequence, the calculation methodology behind CETVs and ERFs was changed on 1 April 2017, with the result that members who requested a transfer value or retired early from the BSPS after that date, received significantly higher benefits than those who had already transferred out or taken early retirement.

At the time it was alleged that thousands of members didn't receive all the information necessary about their pensions to be able to make an informed decision on the matter.

The scheme had about 130,000 members of which 44,000 were deferred, which meant they had the option of transferring out.

About 8,000 of these transferred out of the scheme by October 2018, collectively worth about £2.8bn.

In the four lead cases on this matter the ombudsman found the trustees’ communications concerning the future of BSPS were not misleading and did not amount to scaremongering.

It concluded the trustees obtained and considered appropriate advice to reach its decisions in respect of the future of the scheme and changes to the CETV methodology and ERFs so any changes should not be applied retrospectively.

This is a particularly poor outcome for those who decided to transfer out or take early retirement.

Robert Welch, a BSPS pensioner who has been helping former colleagues with information, said: "I have had all the paperwork and am bitterly disappointed.”

But Stephen Scholefield, partner at Pinsent Masons said these members are stuck with the decisions they made and it is unlikely that any appeal against the Pension Ombudsman’s decision will be successful.

Mr Scholefield said: “It is possible for them to appeal to the court, but the reasoning of the ombudsman is compelling and an appeal is far from likely to succeed. In simple terms, allowing members to benefit from improved terms would give them a one way bet. Instinctively, that is unattractive, and it would need serious failings by a scheme to make that appropriate.

He added: “In many ways, this illustrates the difficulties faced by trustees in trying to explain what can be complex and fast moving issues and the difficulties faced by members in trying to assess and act upon that information.