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13 Sep 06: Pensions Ombudsman Launches 2005 Annual Report

PENSIONS OMBUDSMAN LAUNCHES 2005 ANNUAL REPORT Wednesday 13th September 2006: The Pensions Ombudsman today launched his 2005 Annual Report, together with a Digest of Cases, and presented a copy of the Report to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan TD, which is available on www.pensionsombudsman.ie. The Pensions Ombudsman, in presenting his report highlighted the fact that the number of complaints received in the Office during 2005 had increased significantly in comparison to 2004. In 2005, 389 files were opened compared to 297 files in 2004. In 2005 a total of 76 formal determinations were made, of which 24 were upheld, compared to 23 determinations in 2004 of which only 7 were upheld. However, he added that it was important to note that in addition to the formal determinations a further 146 cases were settled by mediation, 95 of which ended in some concession to the complainant. In addition, 43 cases were disposed of with general advice while 93 were outside his terms of reference, either because they were out of time or referred to something outside his terms of reference. Mr Kenny again made reference to the operation of the Construction Federation Operatives’ Pension Scheme and stated: “There are still depressing numbers of complaints about the failure of employers to register members or pay contributions; and worst of all the theft by employers of contributions that have been deducted and not remitted to the pension scheme. I mention the problem of the large numbers of allegedly self-employed workers in this industry and the difficulties posed by a Labour Court ruling last year. This particular issue is under ongoing discussion with the relevant Government agencies. I mention the need to clarify the position of companies which describe themselves as employment agencies – that issue needs to be addressed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.” He added that the Operatives’ scheme was now in the process of being replaced by the new Construction Workers’ Scheme which started on 1st July. The Ombudsman stated that there were rumours going about that, if an employer who had defaulted on the old scheme could just hang on until it was replaced he could get away without paying arrears that might be due. However, he warned that this was not the case and that every complaint of arrears would be followed up and dealt with however long that would take. Mr Kenny also referred to the “information gap” that he believed existed in relation to public sector schemes generally. He stated that while it was relatively easy for public servants to access a facility to calculate their basic standard entitlements, it was not so easy for them to get information about buying back service, transferability of previous service, when it was compulsory to buy back service and so on. He added “Basic information that people should get on joining employment is often not made available. As a result, it often happens that options are no longer available when they finally do get information, or the exercise of options has become very much more expensive in the meantime.” Mr Kenny also mentioned the urgent need to regulate the provision of employer-sponsored prolonged disability insurance schemes – often called Income Continuance Plans. He stated that these were the last unregulated area of employee benefits, where there is no right to information and no means of redress for maladministration. Mr Kenny has asked that urgent consideration be given as to how these plans are to be regulated. Mr Kenny concluded by thanking the Minister and the staff of his Department for the invaluable support that he had received in establishing his Office and its ongoing operation and hoped that the Minister regarded it as money well spent. ENDS Contact Details Paul Kenny, Pensions Ombudsman: 01 647 1653, or 087 139 4104 Email: info@pensionsombudsman.ie Web: www.pensionsombudsman.ie. Office of the Pensions Ombudsman, 36 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2 Note to Editors: Mr Paul Kenny was appointed as Pensions Ombudsman in April 2003 and his Office was open for business in September, 2003. The opening of the Office was another milestone in the reform process commenced in 2002 with the passing of the Pensions (Amendment) Act, 2002. Under that Act the Pensions Ombudsman has the power to investigate and determine: • complaints made by or on behalf of occupational pension schemes or Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) who allege that they have suffered financial loss as a result of maladministration by those charged with managing these arrangements, • any dispute of fact or law brought to his attention that arise from the actions of those administering occupational pension schemes or PRSAs. The Pensions Ombudsman can give such directions as he considers necessary or expedient to resolve a dispute. His directions can include a financial settlement to cover the actual financial losses incurred by a person making the complaint. The decisions of the Ombudsman are binding subject to the right of appeal to the High Court.