TPO faces ‘financial pressures’ amid likely increase in volume of cases

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) has stated that it will “need to do more with less” as it faces financial pressures and a likely increase in the volume and complexity of cases.

Its Corporate Plan 2021-2024 noted that although there was “a great deal of uncertainty ahead”, it was expecting an uptick in cases.

Despite a “significant increase” in TPO’s staffing levels, workload and funding in the three years between April 2017 and March 2020, funding is not due to increase for 2021/22, with TPO stating that the further rise in demand for its services will have to be met with increased productivity and efficiency.

Although there was an initial fall in the number of complaints in the early stages of the pandemic, the Ombudsman believed the subsequent increase towards the end of 2020 was more reflective of the long-term demand for its service.

TPO’s report forecast that pension complaints would increase by 10 per cent in 2021/22, a further 10 per cent in 2022/23 and a further 5 per cent in 2023/24.

It expected an increase in complaints relating to Covid-19 and Brexit, including furlough and the payment of contributions, and delays in providing information and processing transfers.

It also predicted a rise in cases relating to maladministration due to the non-payment of auto-enrolment contributions, cases related to pension freedoms and transfer value requests, scams, pensions dashboards, and cases around new transfer blocking regulations introduced by the Pension Schemes Act.

In 2020/21, the Ombudsman closed 4,853 complaints, an almost 6 per cent year-on-year increase, although the service starts 2021/22 with a backlog cases due to the increasing workload and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

It stated that a key priority for the coming year is reducing customer journey times.

More than a quarter (29.1 per cent) of open investigations in 2021/22 aged more than 12 months remained unresolved, with the Ombudsman targeting 10 per cent.

“Since I became chair, TPO has undergone an extensive transformation process and the infrastructure is now in place on which we can build over the coming years,” said TPO chair, Caroline Rookes.

“Although there is a great deal of uncertainty ahead, our data shows that the volume and complexity of cases is likely to increase.

“We also face financial pressures. We will need to do more with less and will continue to review and refine the ways in which we work to deliver the quality service our customers need with the resource available to us.”

Pensions ombudsman, Anthony Arter, added: “When we set out our Corporate Plan last year, little did we know how long the challenge of Covid-19 would last.

“I am incredibly proud of the way in which my team at TPO, staff and volunteers, have responded to overcome the challenges faced with dedication and commitment to providing a quality service to our customers, with minimum disruption.”

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