Ombudsman’s anti-scam unit working on 48 cases

Ombudsman’s anti-scam unit working on 48 cases
Outgoing pensions ombudsman Anthony Arter

The Pensions Ombudsman's new anti-scams unit, launched in November, is already working on 48 cases with assets of more than £40mn under consideration.

The new department, called the pensions dishonesty unit, was created following a string of high-profile determinations by the ombudsman where breaches of trust and the misappropriation of scheme funds were found to have occurred. 

According to TPO’s annual report, published on July 14, the first determinations of the department are expected during summer, with four oral hearings held up to the end of March 2022, and other scheduled for the coming months.

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The Ombudsman detailed that as part of the unit’s work, its officials have held “close discussions” with the Pensions Regulator and the Fraud Compensation Fund – managed by the Pension Protection Fund.

This is, according to the Pensions Ombudsman, “in order to coordinate our work and identify which body is best placed to undertake the investigation on different schemes”.

It is anticipated that TPR and FCF will be able to refer cases directly to TPO for investigation in the future, it noted.

The report also detailed that Ombudsman officials are “working with independent trustees to ensure that they are aware of our powers and role in enforcement, thus enabling a determination to be issued in respect of all members of the particular scheme and not just those that have made a complaint”.

To be able to deal with these cases, which are “usually extremely complex and generally require oral hearings, and significant legal input from the legal team,” the organisation has increased its casework and legal staff to deal with the work arising from the new unit.

Pensions ombudsman Anthony Arter said: “During 2021/22, we launched the new Pensions Dishonesty Unit which aims to hold wrongdoers to account and ensure they repay lost lifetime pension savings to all scheme members.

“This is a significant development for the industry; enabling quicker redress and the recovery of funds that may otherwise not be achieved, directly from the guilty party.

“It is currently being run as a pilot and we have recently received confirmation that funding has been extended to March 2023.”

Number of cases

Overall, TPO received 6,216 new pension complaints during 2021-22, up from 5,567 received in the previous period.

Pension transfers, retirement benefits and misquote/misinformation were most common topics of closed pensions complaints, the report stated.

Arter, whose term ends in August, noted that “it has been another busy year and I am incredibly proud of what TPO has achieved”.

He said: “In 2021/22, we closed 5,221 pension complaints – an 8 per cent increase in productivity compared to 2020/21. We achieved this despite an 11.7 per cent increase in demand.

“For several years now our funding has not kept pace with the rise in demand for our service. This means that despite significant increases in our efficiency, customers are waiting far too long for a resolution to their complaints.”