Mr N (PO – 21990) (compliance defence not available where loss was due to maladministration)


TPO has upheld a complaint that a scheme unreasonably delayed a transfer request.

Although the scheme issued the transfer value in accordance with statutory requirements, the document never reached the member, and the scheme’s failed to respond to his queries. TPO concluded that this amounted to maladministration and led to financial loss.

Facts

Mr N was a deferred member of the British Steel Pension Scheme (“BSPS”). On 30 August 2017, he requested a CETV quotation, which he chased up in both September and October.

From October 2017, the BSPS entered a period of consultation with members in relation to the creation of a new scheme, which led to it “experiencing extremely high levels of member engagement”.

The administrator of the BSPS sent a CETV quotation on 7 November 2017, guaranteed for three months. Mr N said that he did not receive this letter. He then called, emailed and wrote to BSPS during January and early February 2018 to chase the CETV further. Having received no response, he complained.

The administrator contacted him on 14 February 2018, after the guarantee had expired (7 February 2018). It apologised for not responding, explaining that it had been unable to respond to member queries as quickly as it usually would, due to demand. It stated that Mr N was not now entitled to an updated CETV (until he moved to the new scheme), as under statute members more than one year before NPA only have the right to one quotation in any 12-month period.

Mr N transferred his benefits out of the new BSPS (into which he had transferred in April 2018) in June 2018. The CETV at that point was £2,067.11 less than the quotation provided in November 2017.

In December 2018, the Trustee of the BSPS responded to Mr N’s complaints. It accepted that there had been delays in its responses, due to the “extremely high volume” of member queries during the period, but said the CETV had been issued in accordance with statute.

Mr N brought his complaint to TPO.

TPO’s decision

TPO agreed with the Adjudicator, accepting there was no maladministration in the handling of the original CETV request, but finding that there had been in dealing with Mr N’s requests for updates.

While a trustee “cannot be held responsible for any failings in the postal system”, the scheme had erred in not responding to Mr N’s subsequent contact. That it had been busy was no excuse; the busyness had been foreseeable, and it was “within the Trustee’s power to scale up its operations” to ensure member requests could still be met (particularly simple requests such as the re-issuing of a letter).

TPO also disagreed with the Trustees’ argument that its inaction was not the main factor which caused Mr N to miss the CETV deadline, and therefore that it should not be responsible for financial loss. TPO held that the Trustee was responsible for the delays, which amounted to maladministration; these caused Mr N to miss the deadline for accepting the CETV, and therefore caused the loss.

The Trustee had also sought to argue that their failure to provide a document to a member could not be maladministration in circumstances where the trustee “has no legal duty to provide that document to the member in the first place”. TPO disagreed: trustees must act in the interests of beneficiaries; by failing to respond to a request for a copy of a CETV in a reasonable timeframe, the Trustee failed to comply with this duty.

TPO ordered the Trustee to liaise with the receiving scheme to determine Mr N’s notional fund value as if the original CETV had been used on 7 February 2018, and then pay the difference between that and the actual current fund value into the member’s new scheme. TPO also awarded £500 for the “significant” distress and inconvenience suffered.

Comment

The decision is a useful reminder that schemes should act in a timely and responsive manner. It also makes clear that schemes should plan for potential disruptive or unusual circumstances, and ensure they remain able to continue day-to-day business. Schemes should consider reviewing their business continuity plans, and their transfer processes generally.