UK TPO issues guidance on member communication

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) in the UK has issued guidance on best practice for communicating with pension scheme members to help the industry avoid ombudsman investigations.

As reported by our sister title, Pensions Age, TPO wanted to share its experience of dealing with pension complaints to help the industry drive up standards in informal dispute resolution, and reduce the number of disputes and complaints.

In 2020/21, TPO’s Enquiries Team handled over 16,500 initial contacts, with “many” resolved by explaining how pensions work, sorting out misunderstandings and managing people’s expectations.

A third of complaints were dealt with by its Early Resolution Service and 78 per cent of determinations made by the ombudsman were not upheld or were partially upheld.

TPO urged the industry to be empathetic and listen, ensure they use plain English in a non-confrontational manner, and to make sure both the professional and member have a shared understanding of the complaint.

They should also clarify what happened and what should have happened, the ombudsman stated, explaining this to the member including any relevant legislation, policies, or procedures.

Industry professionals were urged to understand the outcome the members want, and manage their expectations “robustly”, while accepting responsibility, fixing what can be put right, and not being afraid to apologise if they themselves are at fault, as it could prevent escalation to a formal complaint.

TPO also suggested explaining areas of disagreement, address all the issues raised and show each element has been fairly investigated, make sure members have access to up-to-date scheme information, and communicate any scheme changes clearly to members, administrators and scheme managers.

It also encouraged industry members to comply with legal requirements and avoid delays, while keeping members informed if delays do occur.

“When we ask for information, as we are entitled to under our evidence-gathering powers, provide us with it as soon as possible,” TPO added.

“If it is not easy to collate historical or complex data, tell us and explain why it may take time.

“Remember to provide us with the evidence to support your position regarding the complaint, as well as addressing the issues raised by the member.”

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