TPO upholds contribution shortfall complaint against Cherry Tree Care

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) has upheld a complaint against Cherry Tree Care Limited (CTC) after finding that it failed to pay contributions into a pension scheme.

The complainant, a Mrs H, was employed by CTC and worked in a care home for the company until leaving her role in February 2019, at which point she had no knowledge of missed contributions.

However, CTC had encountered technical problems with the pension portal provided by The People’s Pension (TPP), with an issue involving the leave dates of Mrs H and one other CTC employee.

While the technical issue was eventually resolved, Mrs H was informed by TPP that CTC had not paid contributions into her account in December 2018, with cross references of HMRC information and a TPP statement showing the amount sacrificed from Mrs H’s pay was not fully invested into her pension.

A complaint was raised with the ombudsman in 2020, but CTC failed to respond to TPO’s communications from April 2020 to October of the same year, when it asked for the deadline for its response to be extended to January 2021.

However, CTC failed to respond before then and remained quiet until TPO sent six letters to the company in February and March 2021, finally responding on 29 March to say that Mrs H’s complaint would be made “a priority” and a response would be issued in the second week of April.

No further response to the complaint was ever received from CTC.

While the ombudsman was concerned that Mrs H had not raised her complaint directly with CTC at any point, it stated that the company was made aware of the complaint in April 2020 and still took more than one year to engage in any productive communication regarding the issue, with this being its dispute of the TPO adjudicator’s opinion in May 2021.

TPO said its communications had been “ignored” by CTC, adding that while the normal process in a case such as this would have been to simply seek agreement from all parties on the missing amount, CTC had “not provided its input into this process”.

CTC claimed that it had not been able to dedicate sufficient time to the issue due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which TPO acknowledged was a major distraction but still reasoned that Mrs H should not have had to wait for more than a year for her pension account to be credited with the missing funds, which amounted to employee contributions of £134.22 and employer contributions of £108.58.

CTC was ordered to ensure that £242.80 of unpaid employee and employer contributions was paid into the scheme, as well as the amount of investment return that Mrs H would have made if the money had been paid in on time.

Additionally, CTC was told to pay Mrs H £500 for the significant distress and inconvenience caused to her.

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