The Pensions Ombudsman has issued a decision in respect of a complaint brought by Mr Winning against his two former personal pension providers. The decision considers the extent to which pension providers (and pension scheme trustees) can be expected to warn about the risks of pensions liberation where a member makes a transfer request.
It should be noted, however, that Mr Winning’s transfer predated any guidance issued by the Pensions Regulator in relation to pensions liberation. As a result, trustees and providers may now be held to a higher standard when processing transfer requests.
Mr Winning attempted to transfer his two personal pension schemes to the Capita Oak Pension Scheme in 2012. In order to do so, he completed transfer declarations and discharge forms while the Capita Oak Scheme provided a signed declaration that it would accept the transfer and apply the funds to provide benefits to Mr Winning in accordance with the Capita Oak scheme’s HMRC registration. A HMRC registration number for the Capita Oak Scheme was also provided.
The two transfers, amounting to over £52,000, went ahead in November 2012 and were subject to a 5% initial charge by the Capita Oak administrators. However, Mr Winning was subsequently unable to contact Capita Oak and he understandably became concerned about his money. In March 2014 he complained to the two personal pension providers claiming that they had not made the necessary checks on the Capita Oak Scheme before completing the transfers. Both providers argued that they were not at fault as Mr Winning had signed the relevant forms and the Capita Oak scheme had confirmed its HMRC registration.
Mr Winning complained to the Ombudsman that his two personal pension providers had transferred his pensions without making sufficient checks on the receiving scheme and that, as a result, he was now unable to locate his funds. He also argued that, if the providers had made him aware of the dangers of pension liberation, he would not have made the transfers.
The Ombudsman found no administrative failure on the part of the two personal pension providers. In doing so, he considered the fact that the transfer occurred prior to February 2013 when the Pensions Regulator first published guidance in respect of pensions liberation. The decision suggests that the issuing of this guidance could be considered a “point of change” in terms of good industry practice. The Ombudsman goes on to confirm, however, that it would not be reasonable to apply current levels of knowledge and understanding in relation to pensions liberation to a situation which arose before such information was readily available to pension providers and trustees.
The decision also refers to the fact that Mr Winning had a statutory right to the transfer and that this could not have been overridden by any guidance even if it had been published at the time. The statutory transfer requirements had all been satisfied and the providers were therefore faced with a statutory obligation to make the transfers as requested by Mr Winning.
This case serves as a timely reminder for trustees and pension providers to ensure that they and their administrators are familiar with all relevant guidance on pensions liberation, including the recently published Code of Practice on combating pension scams (as discussed in our previous bulletin). This issue may become even more critical in light of the new DC pension flexibilities.