The Pensions Act provides that the Pensions Ombudsman has power to hold oral hearings before ruling on a matter under investigation. The Pensions Ombudsman is the only person who can decide whether an oral hearing will take place. If an oral hearing is to be held, the Pensions Ombudsman will fix the time and date and give due notice to the parties. In the event that the Pensions Ombudsman decides that an oral hearing is necessary or desirable, the proceedings will, in general, be confined to that small portion of evidence which cannot be reconciled from the papers in the case, or which he considers necessary to explore for the purpose of making a fair decision.
Although the Pensions Ombudsman reserves the right to hold such hearings in public, the usual practice will be to confine attendence at an oral hearing to those whose evidence he is seeking to test. Attendance at such a hearing by legal or other advisors or by expert witnesses may be permitted, on prior application, or if such attendance is required by the Pensions Ombudsman. Every party to the complaint or dispute has the right to ask the Pensions Ombudsman to hold an oral hearing before making a ruling.
Situations where an oral hearing might be appropriate are:
- Where there are differing accounts of a particular event and the credibility of witnesses needs to be tested;
- Where the integrity or honesty of one of the parties has been questioned, and that person has asked for an oral hearing;
- Where there is a dispute about basic facts that cannot be solved from the papers uncovered by the investigation on their own.
Even if none of these conditions is met, the Pensions Ombudsman may decide that it is right and proper to hold an oral hearing.