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FAQs

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I have a dispute about my State Pension, can The Pensions Ombudsman consider it? Toggle accordion

No, any complaints regarding the State Pension including the contracted-out deduction must be referred to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). You can find more information on the gov.uk website.

If you are a consumer champion, does that mean you will uphold my complaint? Toggle accordion

The Pensions Ombudsman is not a consumer champion or a watchdog. 

We act impartially. That means we consider all the evidence submitted by both sides before we make a decision.

We will look at things like whether the pension provider has:

  • taken too long to do something without good reason
  • failed to do something they should have
  • not followed their own rules or the law
  • broken a promise
  • given incorrect or misleading information
  • not made a decision in the right way.
     

I want to make a complaint about my pension - should I complain to The Pensions Ombudsman straight away? Toggle accordion

Before you submit a complaint to us, you should have given the party you think is at fault a chance to put things right. If you are not sure who you should complain to, please contact us.

We will generally only consider a complaint where the party you think is at fault has issued a response or has not done so within a reasonable timeframe (generally around eight weeks).
 

Can I get an award for all the distress and inconvenience they have caused me? Toggle accordion

If your complaint is determined by the Pensions Ombudsman, they will consider whether or not to make an award for any non-financial injustice caused by the party being complained about (commonly referred to as ‘distress and inconvenience’ awards). 

Awards are made based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case. If you have already been made a sufficient offer of redress either before or during the investigation, we will not normally add to it.

There are different levels of award depending on whether the distress and inconvenience caused is considered to be significant, serious, severe or exceptional.

Our awards for non-financial injustice are intended as an acknowledgement of the inconvenience and/or distress that you have suffered. In other words, to remedy the injustice genuinely suffered – not to penalise or punish the party being complained about for bad behaviour. 

You can find out more in our factsheet ‘Redress for non-financial injustice’.

I don’t live in the UK, can I still make a complaint? Toggle accordion

If your pension scheme or provider is based in the UK, you can still bring a complaint to us wherever you live.

You will need to give the party you think is at fault a chance to put things right and check if you are within time to bring a complaint to us.

Usually, you need to contact us within three years of the event you are complaining about happening or within three years of when you first knew about it (or should have known about it). Sometimes, this time limit can be extended. For example, we will use our discretion to extend this time limit for new applicants who have been affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

The number to phone us from overseas is: +44 (0) 207 630 2200.

Is the information I send you confidential? Toggle accordion

During an investigation we will usually share all the information we receive with all parties and give them an opportunity to comment. 

We will not withhold information from other people involved in the complaint or communicate on a ‘strictly confidential’ or ‘without prejudice’ basis. For Pension Protection Fund and Financial Assistance Scheme complaints the information provided by other parties will also be made available to any significantly adversely affected people or interested persons.

All parties have a duty to keep all the information about a complaint confidential. That means it can’t be shared with anyone who isn’t directly involved either during the investigation or after it. If any party discloses information improperly we may refer the matter to the courts. The only exceptions to this are Ombudsman Determinations. These are not confidential and can be made available to anyone.

For more information, please read our ‘Privacy and Personal Information Policy’.

I have a workplace pension but I do not want to go through the internal dispute resolution procedure (IDRP) with my provider. Can I still ask The Pensions Ombudsman to try and resolve the matter? Toggle accordion

We operate an Early Resolution Service as well as a formal adjudication service. This means, wherever possible, we resolve complaints informally at an early stage. Where appropriate, this can be before IDRP has been completed.

Before you submit a complaint to us, you should give the party you think is at fault a chance to put things right. If you are unhappy with their reply, or they do not respond within eight weeks, you can submit an application to us. We will then be able to consider how best we can help.

If you have not already complained to the party you think is at fault and need some help, please contact us.

Can I ask for an oral hearing for my complaint? Toggle accordion

As part of the investigation, any party to a complaint can ask us to hold an oral hearing. 

It is the Ombudsman's decision whether or not to hold one. 

The Ombudsman may decide to hold an oral hearing even if one isn’t requested. Generally, the Ombudsman might decide, or agree, to hold a hearing if there is a significant conflict of evidence that can’t be decided on the papers, or if we think that a party may have been dishonest. 

If you think we should hold an oral hearing for your complaint you should write to the Adjudicator explaining why. Oral hearings are open to the public.
 

Is there a time limit on bringing a complaint to you? Toggle accordion

Usually, you need to contact us within three years of the event you are complaining about happening or within three years of when you first knew about it (or should have known about it). Sometimes, this time limit can be extended. For example, we will use our discretion to expand this time limit for new applicants who have been affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

What can we do if there are a number of us who have the same problem with the same scheme? Toggle accordion

Each person with a complaint needs to ask us to investigate even if the complaints appear to be identical.

Usually we expect multiple complainants to be represented by one person so that we have a central point of contact for all correspondence.

You can find more information on our ‘What’s involved’ page. 

If you are considering making a group complaint please contact us in advance for further information and guidance.
 

How do I make a complaint? Toggle accordion

  1. Make sure what you are complaining about is something we can deal with

  2. Check that you are within time to bring a complaint to us.

    Usually, you need to contact us within three years of the event you are complaining about happening or within three years of when you first knew about it (or should have known about it)

  3. Give the parties you think are at fault a chance to put things right by raising your complaint formally with the pension provider - this may be an internal dispute resolution procedure for workplace pensions.

  4. Complete our application online. You will need to send us a copy of:
  • your complaint letter/email to the other party
  • the other party’s response, if received
  • any other supporting documentation.

To find out more, visit our ‘Can I complain?’ page

What’s the difference between an Adjudicator’s Opinion and an Ombudsman’s Determination? Toggle accordion

Only an Ombudsman’s Determination is final, binding and enforceable in court (unless there is a successful appeal on a point of law). 

At TPO, wherever possible we resolve complaints informally at an early stage, frequently before the issues have been formally considered by the parties. 

At adjudication stage we investigate and determine complaints that were not resolved by the parties or by us at early resolution stage. If your complaint is investigated by an Adjudicator, they will write to all parties and give their view on the complaint.

If they think nothing has gone wrong, they will explain why. Or, if an Adjudicator thinks something has gone wrong, they will explain their thinking and say what should be done to put things right.

Everyone involved in the complaint will have a chance to comment on the Adjudicator’s view.

If all parties accept the Adjudicator's view and proposal to put things right, we will close the case.

If any one of the parties to the complaint does not agree with the Adjudicator's view, they can ask for the complaint to be referred to the Ombudsman with a view to a final Determination being made.
 

My pension provider quoted the level of benefits I would receive but now they are saying that they made a mistake, and I am only entitled to a lower level of benefits when my pension begins. Do they have to stand by the original higher quotation? Toggle accordion

Your pension provider can only pay you the benefits that you are entitled to under the rules of the pension scheme. Giving you an incorrect quote does not change your entitlement.

If you relied on the figures given to you in the higher estimate and spent monies or made financial decisions you would not have done otherwise, there can be grounds to argue that your provider should put you in the position you would have been in if they had not given you the incorrect information in the first place.

However, it must be the case that the error was not one you could have spotted yourself. For example, if the original figure seemed very high in the context of your pension contributions or length of service, or if something else does not look right, you should query it straightaway. Once you are aware of the provider’s mistake, you would be expected to change any decisions you made based on the higher estimate to stop your financial loss getting bigger.
 
If you think you have relied on incorrect information you should first give details to your pension provider. If you are dissatisfied with their response, please complete our application and send us all relevant paperwork.
 

How long will it take to process my complaint? Toggle accordion

We aim to resolve complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible and we are working hard to reduce the time taken to complete investigations.

Once we receive your initial application, we will make sure that we have all the information we need to help us decide whether or not we can deal with your complaint.

If your complaint is accepted for investigation we will allocate an Adjudicator or Resolution Specialist to deal with it as soon as one becomes available with the appropriate knowledge and skills.

Some complaints can be dealt with relatively quickly while others may take a year. It depends how complex a complaint is and how many people are involved. We may need to make several requests for information to establish the facts. The time needed for the investigation depends on how quickly the parties involved respond to our requests for information.

In exceptional circumstances – for example situations of severe financial distress, ill health or bereavement, or if the matter is in the public interest – we may accelerate a case through the process more quickly.

Due to an increasing volume of work and the disruption caused to our service in the early stages of Covid-19, there may be some delays in progressing your complaint. We are working hard to reduce waiting times; we have reviewed our processes and put measures into place to redirect resources where they are most needed. These initiatives are designed to improve the service we offer and we expect to see improvements over the coming months. 

We will update you at key stages as your complaint progresses through the investigation process.

My pension provider has been paying my benefits, but they contacted me to tell me that they have been paying me too much and they need to recover the overpayment. Are they allowed to recover the overpayment as it is their mistake? Toggle accordion

Your pension provider can only pay you the benefits that you are entitled to under the rules of the pension scheme, and the provider has a duty to try to recover the overpayment.

If you believed the benefits you were being paid were correct and spent money or made financial decisions on the basis of receiving that level of benefits, which you would not have made otherwise, you may have grounds to argue that you should not have to repay some or all of the money that has already been paid to you.

However, you must be able to show that you changed your financial position based on the amounts paid to you, or that the pension provider made a clear statement that you relied on. It is also very important to be able to show that any change you made to your financial position or reliance on statements was reasonable.

If you have been made aware by your pension provider that they have been overpaying your benefits, you should also take any steps you can to reduce your financial loss. For example, if you had booked a holiday which you would not have booked if you knew that you were receiving the overpayments, and it is possible to cancel it, you should do so.

If the overpayments have been made to you for a long time, there might be some of the money the provider cannot recover because too much time has passed, but this will depend on the exact circumstances of the overpayments.

If you think you should not have to repay the overpayments, or that a repayment plan proposed by your pension provider will put you in financial hardship, you should raise this with your pension provider. If you are unsatisfied with their response, please complete our application and send us all relevant paperwork.

What if I disagree with an Adjudicator’s Opinion? Toggle accordion

If your complaint is investigated by an Adjudicator, they will write to all parties and give their view on the complaint.

If they think nothing has gone wrong, they will explain why. Or, if an Adjudicator thinks something has gone wrong, they will explain their thinking and say what should be done to put things right.

Everyone involved in the complaint will have a chance to comment on the Adjudicator’s view.

If all parties accept the Adjudicator's view and proposal to put things right we will close the case.

If any one of the parties to the complaint does not agree with the Adjudicator's view, they can ask for the complaint to be referred to the Ombudsman with a view to a final Determination being made.
 

My employer dismissed me because of my ill health. Does that mean an ill health pension should now be paid to me? Toggle accordion

Losing your job because of ill health does not mean that you automatically qualify for an ill health pension. You will need to meet the eligibility criteria for an ill health pension set out in your scheme’s rules. 

If you think you may be entitled to receive an ill health pension, you should first contact your scheme.
 

Can I appeal against the Ombudsman’s Determination? Toggle accordion

A Determination is final and binding on all parties to a complaint subject to a successful appeal on a point of law. This means we cannot change the Determination, except for minor errors such as typing mistakes. 

If you want a Determination changed you must appeal to the High Court in England or Wales, the Court of Session in Scotland or the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.

This is a statutory right and you do not need our consent to lodge an appeal.

In England and Wales appeals against Determinations or directions of an Ombudsman require the permission of the High Court.

The person lodging the appeal will need to satisfy the Court that the appeal has a real prospect of success or that there is some other compelling reason why it should be heard.

This requirement does not currently affect appeals in Northern Ireland. In Scotland an appeal follows a different process, known as a “case stated”.

Any directions made by an Ombudsman can still be enforced pending an appeal unless the court orders a stay or sist (which applies in Scotland).

To find out more, visit the ‘How to appeal’ page.

Can TPO decide on my eligibility for an ill health pension? Toggle accordion

We cannot decide on your eligibility for an ill health pension, but we can look at how a decision about an ill health pension was made and if it was made by the right decision maker. 
 
We would look at whether the right decision-maker has:

  • Followed the scheme’s rules correctly; 
  • Asked the right questions; and
  • Only taken into account relevant evidence and ignored irrelevant evidence. 

If we decide that the decision-maker has not reached its decision properly, we can direct them to revisit their decision and make it again. However, we cannot prevent them from reaching the same decision as long as it is made properly.
 

What can I expect from The Pensions Ombudsman? Toggle accordion

When someone asks us to look into a problem, they have often been trying to resolve it for some time. A lot of people feel very frustrated or distressed.

We will always be considerate and treat you with respect. And we will keep you informed at each stage in the process.

We have to be impartial and look into a problem without taking sides. Sometimes a decision that is fair in a legal sense may not seem fair to you personally.

We will always be open and honest with you about how and why we have made our decisions.

If you have some feedback on how we could improve our service or think something may have gone wrong contact us.

My employer hasn’t passed my contributions to my pension scheme. When should they do this by? Toggle accordion

Contributions deducted from your pay must be paid to the scheme by the 22nd of the following month (if paid electronically) or by the 19th of the following month in any other case.

If this has not happened, you should first raise this with your employer and give them the chance to put things right. 
 
If you are unhappy with their response or remain dissatisfied please submit a completed application to us along with relevant paperwork and supporting documents.

What if I am not happy with the service I have received from The Pensions Ombudsman? Toggle accordion

If you have some feedback on how we could improve our service or think something may have gone wrong, please contact us.

You can start by contacting the person you are dealing with or you can contact us at: 

servicecomplaints@pensions-ombudsman.org.uk

We hope that we will be able to resolve the complaint but if you are still dissatisfied after we have looked into it, you might be able to refer it to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Their contact details are:

Website: www.ombudsman.org.uk/make-a-complaint 

Helpline: 0345 015 4033

Can you contact my employer and make them pay any unpaid pension contributions? Toggle accordion

In the first instance you should contact your employer and try to resolve the matter yourself. 

But, if you have already raised the matter with your employer and it remains unresolved, please complete our application and we will look into whether we can help to resolve it. 

You may also want to report the non-payment of contributions to The Pensions Regulator

What is the Early Resolution Service? Toggle accordion

Our legal framework means it is sometimes not possible for us to investigate a complaint formally until certain jurisdictional requirements are met. But if we consider we can help resolve the matter outside our adjudication service, your complaint will be passed to our Early Resolution Service.

Our Early Resolution Team is made up of staff and volunteers. All our volunteers are pension professionals with many years of pension experience. Your caseworker, whether staff or volunteer, will be impartial and will consider the issues without taking sides. They will look to see if they can help resolve your complaint fairly and informally at an early stage, without the need for formal adjudication. The service does not have legal powers.

Whatever our caseworker’s opinion, you are free to ask that a more formal investigation into your complaint is carried out, which could result in a final, and binding, Determination being made by the Ombudsman. Sometimes you will have to complete your pension provider’s formal complaints process before the formal investigation can begin.
 

Is it only current members of pension schemes that can bring a complaint to you? Toggle accordion

No. We can help with your complaint or dispute if you used to be a member of a scheme or think that you should be a member of a scheme.

We can also help if you are entitled to benefits from someone else’s pension scheme, for example, following a divorce or the death of a member.

In some circumstances we can help employers participating in a scheme or a trustee or manager of a scheme, if they think there is a problem with the way a scheme is run.

To find out more, visit our ‘Can I complain?’ page

My employer has become insolvent and there are pension contributions owing to my pension scheme. What can I do to recover them? Toggle accordion

If a company becomes insolvent, it is often possible for some unpaid pension contributions owed to the pension scheme to be claimed from the National Insurance Fund. This is usually the quickest and most practical method to recover unpaid contributions.

When a company becomes insolvent, an insolvency practitioner is appointed to manage the company’s affairs. They should work with the pension scheme administrators to identify what pension contributions are outstanding and then submit the claim to the National Insurance Fund for payment on your behalf. Only contributions unpaid in the 12 months leading up to the insolvency can be claimed.  

You may want to contact the insolvency practitioner to make sure this is being done.

You can also bring a complaint to us, but we can only direct your employer to make the contributions it owes to your pension scheme. As companies which are insolvent generally have insufficient assets, they may not have enough money to do this, so any directions we make may not lead to any practical results.
 

I’ve complained to my employer but they have told me to complain to the administrator of the scheme - who is my complaint against? Toggle accordion

We look at complaints about the way personal and occupational pension schemes are run.

So, your complaint might be about the employer, trustee, manager or administrator of the scheme. You can make a complaint against more than one party.

If you are not sure who your complaint should be against, contact us.

My close relative died recently, and their pension scheme still has not decided how to distribute their death-in-service lump sum. How long can they take? Toggle accordion

Deciding on how to distribute the lump sum can be a complex and difficult decision for the trustees or administrators of the pension scheme. It is important that the decision-maker’s decision stands up to scrutiny so it should not be rushed in case relevant factors are overlooked. 

Because of the complexity and potential sensitivity, HMRC allows up to two years for a payment to be made before it is potentially subject to a tax charge.

If you are unhappy with the decision-maker’s decision once it has been made, you should raise this with them in the first instance. If you are unhappy with their response or remain dissatisfied, please submit a completed application to us along with relevant paperwork and supporting documents.

How do I know if my complaint is something you can look at? Toggle accordion

We can look at things like if your scheme is:

  • taking too long to do something without good reason
  • failing to do something they should have
  • not following their own rules or the law
  • breaking a promise
  • giving incorrect or misleading information
  • not making a decision in the right way.

There are some things that we cannot look at, including:

  • complaints about State Pensions
  • tracing a lost pension
  • sales or marketing (mis-selling) of pensions
  • where a decision has been made by a tribunal, court or another Ombudsman.

If you are unsure about whether we can investigate your complaint, please contact us.

To find out more, visit our ‘Can I complain?’ page

I am unhappy about the scheme’s decision concerning distribution of the death benefits. Can you decide that it is paid to me instead? Toggle accordion

Generally, we will not impose our own decision on how death benefits should be distributed, but we can look at how the scheme’s decision was made and if it was made by the right decision-maker. 
 
We would look at whether the right decision-maker has:

  • Followed the scheme’s rules correctly; 
  • Asked the right questions; and 
  • Only taken into account relevant evidence and ignored irrelevant evidence.

If we decide that the decision-maker has not reached its decision properly, we can direct them to revisit their decision and make it again. However, we cannot prevent them from reaching the same decision as long as it is made properly.
 

I think I used to have a pension with my employer many years ago but I can’t find the details, can TPO help? Toggle accordion

We can’t help with tracing lost pensions. There is a dedicated government body, called the Pension Tracing Service, who can help trace lost pensions. Their contact details and how to access their service, can be found on the gov.uk website.

I’ve tried to make a complaint to my pension provider but they still haven’t responded. How long do I have to wait before I can bring my complaint to TPO? Toggle accordion

If you haven’t received a response from your pension provider after eight weeks, you can submit an application to us.

You will need to check that we can deal with your complaint and that you are within time to bring a complaint to us.

To find out more information, visit our ‘Can I complain’ page.

When you submit your application, you will need to send us a copy of your complaint letter/email and any other relevant documentation relating to your complaint.