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What's involved?

What's involved?

We have to be fair and impartial and look at a problem without taking sides. We will consider information from all the parties involved in a complaint before making a decision, wherever possible.

If you are not sure if your complaint is something we can deal with, contact us or read the section Can I complain?

What stages are involved in the complaint process?

Once you have submitted your application to us, there are four stages to our complaint process:

  • Review - we’ll look at your application in more detail and might ask for more information to help us decide whether or not we can deal with your complaint. We might be able to resolve the problem for you at this stage.
  • Investigate - if we can deal with your complaint, it will be passed to an Adjudicator or Resolution Specialist to investigate.
  • Make an initial decision or resolve the problem - once we have enough information, the person working on your complaint will give their view on the matter unless they have been able to resolve the problem for you.
  • Determination - if the problem cannot be resolved through the investigation process, you can ask for the complaint to be considered by the Ombudsman and for a final decision to be made.

Review

Before we can look into a problem we need to decide if it’s something we can deal with. We may have to ask you for additional information to help us decide this. 

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Usually an application to The Pensions Ombudsman needs to be made within three years of when the event(s) you are complaining about happened or, if later, within three years of when you first knew about it (or ought to have known about it). We have some discretion in certain instances for the time limit to be extended.

We will check if you have already complained to the party at fault and given them a chance to put things right. If you haven’t, we may ask you to do this or see if our Early Resolution Service can help you.

If it appears that your application might be something we can help with, we may be able to resolve the problem for you at this stage, providing it’s a straightforward matter. We will tell you if we decide to try and resolve the matter. We will keep you informed during the process and check that you are happy with any steps we take. 

If we think the problem can’t be resolved at this stage, we will decide if the matter can be taken on for investigation. This is called a jurisdiction decision. We may decide that we can look at your entire complaint, or just aspects of it. Or we might decide that none of your complaint can be investigated.

We will let you know what we have decided and why.

If you don’t agree with our decision you will have an opportunity to explain why you disagree and ask us to reconsider.

One of our reviewers will make a final decision after looking at all the facts again. They might ask for more information if needed. 

Investigate

When a complaint is allocated to an Adjudicator or Resolution Specialist they will review it and may contact other parties to ask for more information.

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During an investigation we will usually share all the information we receive. This means that anything you send to us is likely to be seen by the people you are complaining about and information received from them is likely to be seen by you.

Usually we will ask the people you think are at fault to comment on your complaint.

If a complaint is complex, or there are a number of people involved, we may need to make several requests for information to establish the facts.

Once we have all the information we need, we will go on to the next step.

Make an initial decision or resolve the problem

Once we have enough information, we aim to close a complaint as quickly as possible.

In some cases, one of our Resolution Specialists may be able to resolve the problem. You will be told if we think your complaint is something we can resolve in this way.

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If all parties can agree on a resolution, we will close the complaint. 

If the matter can’t be resolved, you will usually be able to ask for your complaint to be considered by an Adjudicator, and ultimately by the Ombudsman. Your case will revert to our ‘review’ stage for the application to be checked to ensure it is something we can take on for adjudication.

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 decision being made.

Sometimes, the Ombudsman will issue their initial view on a complaint – a preliminary decision. This will be sent to everyone involved in the complaint and they will be invited to comment before the Ombudsman makes a final decision

We will give everyone time to comment on an Adjudicator’s view or an Ombudsman’s preliminary decision. When we write to you, we will tell you the deadline for responses.

Determination

The Ombudsman’s Determinations are final, binding and enforceable in court (unless there is a successful appeal on a point of law). More information about the Ombudsman’s Determinations, and how to appeal them, is in our Determination factsheet.

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If the Ombudsman decides a complaint should be upheld or partly upheld they will usually tell the person at fault to put things right.

This might include:

  • Making good a financial loss or taking other steps to correct the problem. The Ombudsman can usually only consider whether there has been any harm to the individual who has come to us with the problem. There are some exceptions, for example if money has been paid out of a pension scheme in breach of trust at a loss to the whole scheme.

  • Paying compensation for any non-financial injustice, such as distress or inconvenience caused. More information about non-financial injustice and the way in which the Ombudsman addresses it is in our Determination factsheet.

There is no financial limit to the value of the award the Ombudsman can make.

Timelines

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

If you make an initial enquiry or submit an application we’ll usually acknowledge it within 10 working days.

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. This may mean a wait of several weeks.

In the meantime, you may find that some preliminary work is done on your complaint. For example, we might ask the people you have complained about for some further information or to provide a detailed response to your complaint.

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.

Some complaints can be dealt with relatively quickly while others may take over 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.

Throughout the investigation process, you should receive an update on your complaint at least every six weeks.

Outcomes

Ways in which a complaint can be concluded

First Contact Resolutions

We apply this approach to problems that are clearly resolvable with the minimum of intervention. It will happen at the very early stages in the process and usually involves just ourselves and the person making the complaint.

Early resolution

This applies to complaints where the matter appears to be resolvable with a limited amount of intervention. It is usually necessary for a Resolution Specialist to liaise with the complainant and the party being complained about. We call these ‘early resolution’ cases because we aim to get involved as early as possible in the process to avoid parties having to go through further, lengthy processes.

If a complaint cannot be resolved this way, the Resolution Specialist will explain the possible next steps, which might include the complaint being considered by an Adjudicator and ultimately the Ombudsman.

Resolved or withdrawn complaints

In these cases, which are not handled under our Early Resolution Service, an Adjudicator will explain the position to the complainant, and possibly others involved in the complaint, with a view to resolving the matter informally. Any agreement will be followed up by a written report issued to everyone involved in the complaint and the case will be closed.

An Adjudicator’s Opinion is accepted

In these cases, an Adjudicator will give everyone involved in the complaint their written view (or ‘Opinion’) of the outcome. If all parties agree with the Adjudicator’s Opinion, the case will be closed.

The complaint is discontinued

In these cases, the Ombudsman decides that the investigation into the complaint should not continue. Before discontinuing an investigation, we will tell all parties to the complaint why the investigation is likely to be discontinued and give them an opportunity to provide representations.

The complaint is determined following an Adjudicator’s Opinion

This happens when some or all of the people involved in the complaint do not accept the Adjudicator’s Opinion. The complaint is referred to an Ombudsman along with all the submissions made by the parties. The Ombudsman will make their own decision, based on the evidence, and issue a final Determination.

Before making their final decision, the Ombudsman might decide to call for additional evidence, or further investigation.

The complaint is determined following an Ombudsman’s preliminary decision

In some cases, the Ombudsman might issue a preliminary decision and then go on to make a final Determination, for example, where the complaint is highly complex with many issues to be addressed.

The Ombudsman’s Determinations

The Ombudsman’s Determinations are final, binding and enforceable in court (unless there is a successful appeal on a point of law). More information about the Ombudsman’s Determinations, and how to appeal them, is in our Determination factsheet.

If the Ombudsman decides a complaint should be upheld or partly upheld they will usually tell the person at fault to put things right.

This might include:

  • Making good a financial loss or taking other steps to correct the problem. The Ombudsman can usually only consider whether there has been any harm to the individual who has come to us with the problem. There are some exceptions, for example if money has been paid out of a pension scheme in breach of trust at a loss to the whole scheme.
  • Paying compensation for any non-financial injustice, such as distress or inconvenience caused. More information about non-financial injustice and the way in which the Ombudsman addresses it is in our Determination factsheet.

There is no financial limit to the value of the award the Ombudsman can make.
 

Who’s involved

Appointing a representative

You can nominate someone else to help you bring your complaint to us. This could be a member of your family, a friend or a professional person such as a solicitor. However you are unlikely to get any costs repaid (even if your complaint is upheld) because our service is designed so that people should not normally need professional help.

If you appoint a representative we will write to them directly while we are processing your complaint and throughout the investigation.

Enquiries and Assessment

All enquiries and applications are dealt with by Enquiries and Assessment.

Staff can help with initial enquiries if you are thinking of raising a complaint about your pension. They might be able to help you immediately to resolve your problem. Applications are assessed to decide what action needs to be taken to ensure a smooth and efficient process in each case. We also have staff who decide if an application can be taken on for investigation.

Early Resolution

If your complaint is assessed to be suitable for early resolution, it will be passed to one of our Resolution Specialists. They will usually talk to you and the party being complained about to reach a resolution on the complaint that is acceptable to everyone.

If a complaint cannot be resolved this way, the Resolution Specialist will explain the possible next steps, which might include the complaint being considered by an Adjudicator and ultimately the Ombudsman.

Adjudication

Once we have reviewed your application and decided that it is something we can take on for adjudication, your complaint will be allocated to one of our Adjudicators. They have powers delegated by the Ombudsman to gather evidence, investigate complaints and give their view as to what the outcome might be. When your case is allocated, an Adjudicator will write to you. They will usually be your main point of contact throughout the investigation process.

Ombudsman

The power to make final and binding decisions rests only with the Pensions Ombudsman and the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman. 

Anthony Arter is the Pensions Ombudsman and Pension Protection Fund Ombudsman. Karen Johnston is the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman and Deputy Pension Protection Fund Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman are appointed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Both Ombudsmen have identical decision-making powers.

You can find out more about the law that governs us in Legal Framework: occupational and personal pensions and Legal Framework: Pension Protection Fund, or the Financial Assistance Scheme.

What to expect

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.

Group complaints

A group complaint is where several people have the same problem with the same scheme.

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

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

Lead case

We will set up one complainant as the lead case and ask this person to complete an application. If the complainant is also the representative for the group then they should expect that information about their case will be shared with the rest of the group and we will ask for written authority to do so.

Other applicants

We may not need formal applications from other people in the group but we will need:

  • personal details such as a name and address
  • written confirmation of their complaint
  • confirmation that a representative has been appointed (if applicable)
  • a signature.

What we will do

First we will need to decide if the complaint is something we can investigate. Normally we will assess the lead case first and then decide the appropriate course of action for the remaining complainants.

What you need to do

We can look at complaints about how personal and occupational pension schemes are run. But there are some things we can’t investigate, so you should check the information on this site to see if your complaint is something we can deal with.

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

Linking group cases during investigation

Sometimes, we receive a number of individual complaints which cover the same problem, but which have been submitted through separate applications (possibly also at different times) rather than via a lead complainant. When this happens, we may join those complaints together during the investigation process and issue a single Determination which covers them all. We will inform you if this applies to your complaint.

Personal information

Under the Data Protection Act 2018 we must comply with various duties for any personal information that we hold about you. For example, we must use your information fairly and keep it secure. For more information, read our Privacy and Personal Information Policy.

Oral hearings

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 have 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 case you should write to the Adjudicator explaining why. Oral hearings are open to the public.

Rights and Responsibilities

All parties have rights and responsibilities during an investigation. This includes a duty to keep all the information related to a complaint confidential.

Rights and responsibilities

Have you checked if you can complain?

We can look at complaints about how personal and occupational pension schemes are run. We can also help if you have a complaint about a decision made by the Pension Protection Fund or the Financial Assistance Scheme.

But there are some things we can’t investigate, so you should check the information on this page to see if your complaint is something we can deal with.

Can I complain?

Ready to complain?

Once you have checked that your complaint is something we can deal with, you will need to submit an application and send us any documents related to your complaint.

Submit an application

What’s involved in complaints about the Pension Protection Fund and Financial Assistance Scheme?

The process and timescales for complaints about the Pension Protection Fund and Financial Assistance Scheme are different. 

Applying to participate in a FAS appeal