Ms S is a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme (the Scheme). She was made redundant by her employer, the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, (the Council) in October 2010. In March 2012 Ms S’ psychiatrist wrote to the Council. He said he had been reviewing her situation regularly, but her depressive disorder meant she was unable to work and her mental health needed to be considered when settling her pension.
In September 2012, Ms S requested the early release of her deferred pension on grounds of ill health. She was then aged 55. Ms S was asked to submit doctors’ reports and was informed that once the information was received the Council would, at its discretion, decide whether she was entitled to claim her pension early. Ms S submitted the relevant reports in February 2013.
The reports were considered by an independent registered medical practitioner and, in September 2013, Ms S was informed that her application had been turned down. No reason was given for the Council’s decision. In December 2013, a further request was made for the early release of Ms S’ pension. Ms S’ medical practitioners said Ms S remained significantly disabled by the symptoms of her illness. No response was received.
Ms S got help from The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and Ms S’ internal dispute resolution procedure (IDRP) stage one appeal was submitted in December 2014. The appeal was upheld in January 2015 and the Council was asked to review its decision on Ms S’ application. In July 2016, the Council confirmed that it had forwarded Ms S’ request for the early release of her deferred pension to its occupational health advisers. Ms S was seen by another independent registered medical practitioner in August 2016. Ms S did not hear anything further from the Council until March 2017 despite having chased them in December 2016.
The Council said that as Ms S was now 60 (in December 2016), it had asked its administrators to write to her with her pension options. The Council said if, after receiving the certificate from its occupational health advisers, it decided that Ms S’ pension should be brought into payment before age 60, her pension options at age 60 could be amended. During the investigation, the Council informed this office that it had now received a copy of the independent registered medical practitioner certification and it had agreed the early release of Ms S’ pension backdated to August 2016.
Ms S’ complaint was considered by an adjudicator. The conclusion was that the Council should consider whether Ms S satisfied the criteria for the early release of her deferred pension on grounds of ill health before 16 August 2016 and to pay Ms S £1,500 for the distress and inconvenience caused.
Ms S did not agree with the Adjudicator’s Opinion as she did not think £1,500 was sufficient compensation for the distress and inconvenience she had been caused.
The Ombudsman agreed with Ms S. He said the delays and repeated failure to respond in a timely manner were inexcusable, as was the unprofessional way in which Ms S’ application had been handled over many years. The Ombudsman recognised this must have been extremely distressing to Ms S, especially given her medical condition, causing her further unnecessary suffering. He directed that Ms S should be awarded £2,500 for the very significant distress and inconvenience that she had suffered.