Hogan Lovells

Key Dates

Determination issued on 19 October 2017 


Summary

The Deputy Pensions Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by a member against the pension administrator at her employer, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust (BSUH), for failure to investigate the member's complaint about an incorrect retirement benefits quotation.

Background

According to Mrs K, in October 2015 she had a meeting with Mrs Y, the BSUH pension administrator, who provided her with an estimated retirement quotation. The quotation incorrectly stated Mrs K's annual "pay" as nearly £65,000, when her correct salary was approximately £20,000. The standard benefits quoted were therefore incorrect. Mrs K queried the details as the quotations were higher than she had expected, but was reassured by Mrs Y that they were accurate. Based on this information, Mrs K decided to stop work and to claim her pension benefits.

Mrs K was alerted to the error when her paperwork from the scheme, NHS Pensions, arrived in January 2016, showing her pension to be more than three times less than shown on the earlier quotation. Over the next four months, Mrs K contacted NHS Pensions and BSUH, only for each organisation to refer her to the other party. Mrs K contacted TPAS when a letter sent to BSUH in May 2016 went unanswered. On TPAS' advice, Mrs K requested complaint forms from both NHS Pensions and BSUH, including "complaint" in the subject heading. BSUH failed to send its complaint forms to Mrs K and instead twice asked Mrs Y to respond to Mrs K's "query".

NHS Pensions responded to Mrs K's complaint brought through its internal dispute resolution (IDRP) procedure and rejected her claim.  Mrs K took her complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman, following which NHS Pensions provided evidence that the incorrect quotation had been initiated by Mrs Y.  Mrs K accepted this explanation and asked that the complaint against NHS Pensions be considered as resolved.

Complaint to Pensions Ombudsman about BSUH

The Pensions Ombudsman's office accepted a subsequent complaint by Mrs K about BSUH, on grounds that she had made a specific complaint to BSUH which had never been fully responded to.  In a later response, BSUH argued that its administrator was not required to check that any details provided in a quotation were correct and that it was solely Mrs K's responsibility to spot the error.  However, a NHS Pensions Online Guide confirmed that, when meeting an employee, employers are asked to check that pay details on an estimate quotation are correct before continuing.

An Ombudsman's Adjudicator found that Mrs K understood that the quotation was an estimate and accepted that she could not be compensated for financial loss.  Nevertheless, it was clear that she had suffered significant distress as a result of the original error.

Determination

The Deputy Pensions Ombudsman (DPO) upheld the complaint and the Adjudicator's findings.  BSUH had a responsibility to ensure that key data, which included "pay", was checked and its handling of Mrs K's complaint had caused her significant distress and inconvenience "which was completely avoidable".  While noting BSUH's limited staff capacity, it was "fundamental" that Mrs Y could not properly make a decision about a complaint that she personally had failed to administer BSUH's responsibilities properly.   Someone independent was needed to consider what had happened and to notify Mrs K of their decision on whether her claim was well founded.

The DPO directed the BSUH to pay £1,000 for distress and inconvenience for the failure to check the accuracy of the data and for mishandling Mrs K's complaint. 



Date Accessed: 03/12/2021