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A Day in the Life of the Pensions Ombudsman

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This Ombuds Day, The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) is raising awareness of the essential role Ombuds Services play by sharing a typical ‘Day in the Life of the Pensions Ombudsman, Anthony Arter’.

“When I first agreed to write this article, I don’t think I realised what I was letting myself in for. I am not sure if there is any such thing as a typical day for me in my role as Pensions Ombudsman and Chief Executive of TPO, as every day there is something new to absorb, resolve or challenge, but here goes…

I have always been an early riser so usually start my day around 5.30am. After having a shower and grabbing a bowl of cereal, I leave home around 6.15am and jump on my electric bike, (I know I’m cheating!) – I got it during lockdown and it’s my pride and joy. I love the 25-minute journey through East London – it’s one of my favourite times of day. I find it invigorating but at the same time, it gives me the headspace I need to focus on the day ahead. 

Arriving at the office in Canary Wharf, I quickly change and make my way to the kitchen for the first of many cups of coffee. There’s a really inspiring display on the kitchen noticeboard by the Black Staff Network raising awareness of Black History Month – I will need to study it in more detail later in case it helps with the upcoming quiz but for now, it’s back to my desk.

I start each week going through my diary with my PA to confirm and schedule appointments. I have an upcoming lunch with Oliver Morley CBE (Chief Executive, Pension Protection Fund). I have regular meetings with a number of key strategic partners which are incredibly useful in ensuring a joined-up approach to dispute resolution. I also need my PA to set up my next meeting with Dominic Harris. As I am sure you know, Dominic will be taking up his appointment as the new Pensions Ombudsman on 16 January 2023 and we have been meeting regularly to ensure a smooth handover.

This morning I have a meeting with members of the Pensions Dishonesty Unit (PDU) as we prepare for our next oral hearing later this month. The PDU was launched earlier this year to investigate allegations of serious breaches of trust, misappropriation of pension funds and dishonest or fraudulent behaviour by pension scheme trusts. As this involves making findings against individuals in their personal capacity, including an assessment of their honesty, it is imperative that I can question people directly, under oath. I have already been through the bundle of papers which includes the background of the case and key correspondence; this meeting is to discuss and finalise the questions I need to ask to enable me to reach a properly considered decision.

After a sandwich at my desk and a quick catch-up with members of my Executive Team, I read through my bullet points for this afternoon’s office-wide meeting which is held monthly. I really enjoy these opportunities for us all to get together. During lockdown we held them virtually but now we are back in the office, they are hybrid events with some joining virtually and others physically in the room. As part of Black History Month, I am looking forward to hearing from our external speaker Nicola Williams who, among her many other achievements, was the first service Complaints Ombudsman for the UK Armed Forces.

After an incredibly inspiring meeting, I return to my inbox with renewed vigour and accept a request to speak at one of our volunteer seminars next month to give an update on our PDU. Although this is an internal event for our volunteers, engaging and influencing the wider pensions industry remains a vital part of our strategy. I receive frequent requests to speak at industry events and am always happy to participate. It not only raises awareness of the vital work we do but also helps to improve dispute resolution by sharing how schemes can avoid complaints ending up with TPO. Just last month I took part in a panel discussion, together with David Fairs (TPR) and Margaret Snowdon (PASA), at the FT Adviser’s Financial Advice Forum, the topic was: 'Navigating the turbulent waters of DB transfers'.  

At TPO, we are the only Ombudsman service with a network of 200 pension professionals who have many years’ experience. Our volunteers are vital to our service and last year helped us close 1,319 pension complaints. We are always keen to recruit more pension professionals, if you are interested in joining us, visit the volunteering pages on our website.

Around 3.00pm, I leave the office and cycle home, but the day is not yet over for me. I will be logging on again later in the afternoon and into the evening to finalise a number of Provisional Decisions and Determinations. It means reading the various reports, emails etc and the arguments put forward by the applicant(s) and respondent(s) before coming to a decision on the outcome. I then read through the various papers for the forthcoming Corporate Board meeting. Corporate Board meetings are held quarterly and attended by TPO’s Executive and our four Non-Executive Directors including our Chair, Caroline Rookes. Items on tomorrow’s agenda include the PDU evaluation and the proposed budget for 2023/24.

I finally log off at between 8.00pm and 9.00pm and have a relaxed enjoyable supper. It’s been a busy day; I am pleased with progress made and am looking forward to whatever tomorrow may bring."
 

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