Pension complaints increase sharply
THE NUMBER of complaints received by the office of the Pensions Ombudsman from members of the public has more than doubled in the first half of this year, the Pensions Ombudsman said yesterday.
Speaking at the launch of the ombudsman’s annual report for 2011, Paul Kenny said his office had received 1,171 new cases in the first half of 2012, compared with 584 during the same period last year.
“More and more of the complaints that are now arriving at my office seem to centre on matters arising from the insolvency of defined-benefit schemes, or issues that have their origins in decisions to wind them up.”
He also called for better communication from the industry in relation to pension matters.
The Pensions Ombudsman is a state agency that investigates complaints from members of the public about their pension provision. The office took 16 prosecution cases last year under the Pensions Act, most of which resulted in a fine as well as the awarding of costs in favour of the office of the ombudsman.
More than 40 per cent of complaints to the ombudsman were resolved through mediation, though Mr Kenny noted an increasing tendency by parties to resist mediation or conciliation.
Most of the remaining enquiries were forwarded on to other bodies such as the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Board.
Last year the office received 1,221 new complaints, many of which related to incentivised early retirement schemes in the public service, though complaints about construction companies continued to proliferate.
About 30 per cent of cases were closed within five weeks, though the number of cases which took more than 50 weeks to resolve rose from 24 per cent in 2010 to just under 30 per cent last year.
Among the other issues raised by the ombudsman was the question of disinvestment. He noted a high proportion of complaints came from pension scheme members who claimed that when they reached pension age trustees did not convert their funds to cash but left the money in an actively managed investment vehicle.
“While trustees are not expected to be able to foretell movements on the investment markets or anticipate falls before they occur, they should adopt a consistent policy in relation to disinvestment,” the annual report said.
Last year’s report on public service reform proposed the integration of the regulatory functions of the Pensions Board with the Financial Regulator and the merging of the Pensions Ombudsman with the Financial Services Ombudsman.
The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, said yesterday the OECD review of Ireland’s pension arrangements commissioned by her department is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
She also said that any request by the office of the Pensions Ombudsman for more staff, as it deals with the increase in the number of complaints, would be “looked at very seriously.”
According to its 2011 annual report, the Pensions Ombudsman employed 11 people last year.
Mr Kenny was appointed ombudsman in 2003 by the then minister for social and family affairs and was reappointed in 2009.