Improved customer waiting times a 'key priority' for TPO

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) has identified plans to improve customer waiting times as a key priority over the upcoming year, after acknowledging that wait times over the past year have become “unacceptably long”.

According to TPO's Corporate Plan 2022-2025, the ombudsman increased productivity by 8 per cent over the past year, closing around 5,221 pension complaints during the period, amid a continued increase in demand.

However, TPO noted that funding has not kept pace with the rise in demand, which, combined with “unavoidable delays” amid the pandemic, has resulted in customer waiting times becoming “unacceptably long”.

Indeed, a survey of 11,848 customers as part of TPO's regular customer satisfaction survey found that 63 per cent of customers were dissatisfied with how quickly TPO dealt with their complaint.

In light of this, TPO has outlined plans to improve waiting times going forward and is aiming to be in a position where it is meeting customer demand for service within acceptable time limits by 2025.

Additional resource to be made available to TPO over the next three years are expected to support these efforts, with TPO to work with the pensions industry to reduce the number of complaints and find ways to close the complaints received more efficiently.

Supporting the development of new and existing staff was also identified as a significant feature of TPO's plans, with funding received for 2022/23 to allow for the creation of a new team specifically to focus on reducing waiting times.

In addition to this, a new temporary team will be created to focus on clearing more straightforward cases, in an effort to free up permanent TPO staff to focus on more complex and demanding cases.

For 2022/23, TPO's has estimated that demand will increase at broadly the same rate we have seen during 2021/22, namely 10 per cent.

However the ombudsman noted that forecast remains "unpredictable", as it is "much harder" to forecast whether budgets will be sufficient for 2023/24 and 2024/25, with the forecast for 2023/24 already higher than it was 12 months ago.

"We will be carefully monitoring whether the additional budget is sufficient to reduce the case waiting time and meet increasing demand as there are a number of dependencies that need to be taken into account," TPO stated.

The ombudsman has also confirmed plans evaluate the success of its Pensions Dishonesty Unit pilot, which recently had its funding extended until 31 March 2023.

While the unit was launched as a pilot, if the evaluation finds that the unit is a necessary and valued part of the triparted approach to tackling pension scams, TPO has confirmed that it will look to secure further funding for 2023/24 and 2024/25.

Alongside this, TPO identified its work with key strategic partners and stakeholders across the pensions industry as a further important priority, supporting efforts to raise standards in dispute resolution and enable schemes to resolve disputes without TPO's involvement.

Commenting in the introduction of the report, pensions ombudsman, Anthony Arter, stated: “The pensions landscape continues to evolve; encouraging more people to save for their retirement, increasing people’s understanding of the options available and expanding protection against scams.

"This increased knowledge alongside the current economic impact on people’s personal finances means that demand for our service is likely to continue to increase.

"This is my last Corporate Plan as the pensions ombudsman as my appointment comes to an end later this year. I have greatly enjoyed my time at TPO and it has been an honour and a privilege to be able to carry out my duties with such a fantastic team of people.

"There are undoubtedly challenges ahead but the many changes we have implemented since 2015 and those that we have planned mean we are in an excellent position for TPO to meet those challenges head on and continue to provide an excellent service for which we can be proud."

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