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Volunteers' Week - An interview with TPO Volunteer Mark Threipland

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Mark Threipland recently joined The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) as a Volunteer Adviser, helping members of the public informally resolve problems they have with their occupational or personal pension. He kindly agreed to be interviewed as part of our communications highlighting the work of our volunteers during Volunteers’ Week. 

So, where were you working and what was your role before you started volunteering with TPO?   

I retired a year before starting as a volunteer. Before retiring, I was heading up a legal department at the Financial Conduct Authority focussing on retail financial services.  

How did you find out about TPO’s volunteer programme, and what made you decide to volunteer? 

After retiring, I loved my free time and limited responsibilities. But I soon got bored, as everyone had warned me. I needed intellectual challenge without the stress of commuting, deadlines and office politics. 

I looked for part time jobs and volunteering opportunities and struggled to find anything with the flexibility I wanted. I eventually looked at TPO because I’d come   across the TPO volunteer programme after I referred my own pension complaint to TPO. The people I dealt with at TPO were friendly, professional and knowledgeable.  

How have you found the experience so far and what types of cases have you been involved in, and have you been able to help resolve any? 

The joining process was easy.  I was concerned about my limited knowledge of Defined Benefit pensions. But TPO was great at starting me on cases about Defined Contributions personal pensions within my expertise - things like delays and administrative errors. I’ve had lots of support from my mentor, who talked through each case with me.  

I’m now branching out to less familiar cases, like ill-health pensions and pension sharing on divorce. Each case feels like a big puzzle – at first, it’s difficult to work out what’s going on, but slowly the pieces come together and eventually I see the full picture.  

At the FCA, my work involved millions and sometimes billions of pounds. Now my cases usually involve a few thousand pounds. But each case is very important to the individual complainant.  

I’ve started five cases in my first six months and resolved two of them so far. The complainants have all been hugely appreciative of my work, even in one case where all I could do was carefully explain why her complaint wasn’t valid. 

How time consuming is volunteering, and how do you manage your time?  

It’s as time consuming (or not) as I like. When I have free time, I progress my cases or ask for a new case. When I’m busy on other things, I just check my TPO emails once a week to keep things ticking over.  

It took a bit of time to get used to a slower pace of working. At the FCA, I’d often get 100+ emails a day, many of them urgent. Things are much more relaxed as a volunteer! It’s great to have time to read things carefully and consider my thoughts, without anyone chasing me.  

Being retired, I have lots of free time. I’ve come across other volunteers whose employers allow them to spend time volunteering. TPO volunteering is perfect for that, as you can log in and deal with things when work commitments allow. 

As a Volunteer Adviser do you receive any training and support, and have you found this beneficial? 

The 'know how’ resources are excellent with Lexis access and TPO guidance notes, including sample replies to common complaints. I’ve had three training sessions, two of which explained the basics while the third gave me confidence to deal with complaints outside my expertise. The friendly support from my volunteer mentor and permanent TPO staff mean I never feel unsure of what I’m doing.   

If you were encouraging a fellow pension professional to volunteer, what would you say to them are some of the personal and practical benefits?  

I’ve enjoyed exercising my ‘grey cells’, learning about the complaints system and new aspects of pensions, and understanding how things go wrong with people’s pensions in practice. Above all, the reward comes from helping people. I’ve already dealt with a wide variety of complainants ranging from individuals with very little knowledge about pensions to a retired pension specialist. A common theme is that they are very grateful to have their problems taken seriously.   

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If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the TPO, you can find out more on the jobs and volunteering page. 

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