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Focus Administration Pension Scheme Determination

Date:

After an extensive investigation carried out by the Pensions Dishonesty Unit, the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman has upheld complaints against the Trustees of the Focus Group Administration (the Scheme). Simon Williams, a FIDE Chess Grandmaster, has been ordered to repay over £730,000 into the scheme.

The Pensions Ombudsman received complaints that the trustees had failed to:

  • comply with statutory requirements, guidance from TPR and governance requirements
  • operate the necessary controls to ensure the effective and transparent administration of the Scheme and had committed multiple acts of maladministration
  • comply with their various duties, under statute and case law, concerning the investment of the Scheme’s assets and facilitated a sophisticated pension liberation arrangement.

The Scheme was established in March 2013, with Mr Simon Williams as sole trustee and Mr Glenn House, sole director of Brambles Administration Limited, as the administrator (Brambles). Mr Williams was the sole director and shareholder of Focus Administration Limited (Focus), the Scheme’s sponsoring employer. From August 2016, Focus was appointed as sole trustee by Mr Williams.

Approximately 11 members transferred a total of approximately £830,000 of pension benefits into the Scheme. 

The investments made with the Scheme funds were generally in companies that: had only been incorporated a short while before the investments were made; had been trading at a loss; and/or were companies in which one or more of Mr Williams’ associates had an interest. Many of the underlying property assets or development projects were geographically concentrated around Liverpool and Northern England.

One of the investments involved the purchase of office pods and was structured on paper to result in a capital gain payment for the member. However, this was a sophisticated pension liberation scheme which involved back-to-back property transactions, not registered with the Land Registry, and the capital gain payment was paid from the member’s pension fund. 

The Deputy Pensions Ombudsman upheld the complaints, finding that Mr Williams and Focus had committed multiple breaches of trust and, alongside Brambles, many acts of maladministration, which have caused the loss of Scheme funds and have severely impacted Scheme members’ pensions. Mr Williams has been directed to repay £738,768.60 into the Scheme; and Mr Williams and Brambles to pay each applicant £6,000 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience.

The Applicants and Respondents have been notified of the Determination, which is final and binding, subject to appeal to the High Court on a point of law. The Pensions Ombudsman has shared the Determination with TPR.

Editors’ Notes
Focus Administration Pension Scheme Determination in full.

What is the Pensions Dishonestly Unit? 
The PDU pilot was established in November 2021 to investigate allegations of serious breaches of trust, misappropriation of pension funds and dishonest or fraudulent behaviour by trustees (including others involved in the pension arrangement such as managers and administrators). 
Its principal aim is to hold wrongdoers to account and ensure they repay lost lifetime pension savings to all scheme members. 

This pilot is significant; enabling quicker redress and the recovery of funds that may otherwise not be achieved, directly from the party at fault. It is currently being run as a pilot and funding has been extended to March 2025.
 

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