The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and the Pensions Ombudsman
play very different roles in the resolution of problems, complaints
and disputes concerning pension plans.
TPAS gets involved before the Pensions Ombudsman, who is
normally the final arbiter in the matter. TPAS does not have
any statutory powers and can only effect a resolution through
persuasion and conciliation. The Pensions Ombudsman on the other
hand has similar powers to a court of law.
Most TPAS advisers are volunteers drawn from the pension
industry who carry out this service free of charge in their own
time. Their first task is to gather as much information as possible
from you and all other parties involved. The TPAS service is
independent of both sides to a complaint. If our adviser, in the
light of the information available, does not believe you have a
sustainable case, they will tell you this, explain why this
conclusion has been reached and return the file to the office for
No opinion expressed by us is in any way legally binding and you
still have the right to take your case to the Pensions Ombudsman,
as long as it is within his jurisdiction.
If our adviser believes you have a case, they will assist you
and the other parties to come to a resolution. This may result in
you getting everything you want but it may involve a compromise and
a negotiated settlement. Whatever our adviser's opinion, you are
still free to take your case to the Pensions Ombudsman at any time,
as long as it is within his jurisdiction.
While the majority of complaints investigated by TPAS are
handled by volunteers, they are expected to maintain certain
standards on progressing cases. Generally we expect all items of
correspondence to be acted upon in a reasonable time and that you
are updated with progress at least every eight weeks.
If you are unhappy with the service you receive from a TPAS
adviser please let us know. If you wish to make a formal complaint
about the service (but not the opinion given) please write to the
Head of Corporate Services.
Generally case papers are kept for four years unless they have
been passed to the Office of the Pensions Ombudsman or the
Financial Ombudsman Service. Complaints should however be made
within twelve months of your adviser's last involvement with your
If, after investigating your case, our volunteer adviser
believes a referral of your case to the Pensions Ombudsman may be
beneficial, the file will be returned to our office. We will carry
out an independent review of the file and provide an expert second
opinion. While this will usually confirm the view of the adviser,
sometimes the office view will be different. If the office agrees
that there is a case to be determined, they will help you present
your complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman.
The Pensions Ombudsman
Complaints to the Pensions Ombudsman must be presented on his
official complaint form, which we will provide if you do not
already have a copy. If your complaint relates to a workplace
scheme and one of the respondents you cite is the scheme trustees
or scheme manager, then the Pensions Ombudsman can only investigate
after you have used the scheme's internal dispute resolution
process. This is a statutory requirement. We can give you guidance
on how to do this.
On receipt of your form, the Pensions Ombudsman's office will
ask us to pass over your case file prior to their investigation.
The Pensions Ombudsman will reach his own decision on your case
based upon his interpretation of your legal rights. Following his
investigation, the Pensions Ombudsman will decide your complaint or
dispute. This decision will be totally independent of any opinion
given by TPAS on your case. His decision is final and binding on
all the parties to the complaint or dispute. It can be enforced in
the courts. His decision can only be changed by appealing to the
appropriate court on a point of law.
You should write to the Pensions Ombudsman within three years of
matter you are complaining about or disputing. If you did not know
about the matter at the time, the three-year limit runs from the
time you knew or ought to have known.
The Pensions Ombudsman may extend the time limit if the
complaint is made outside the three-year period, but only if he
thinks that any delay beyond three years was reasonable. In
particular, he may treat time spent using an internal dispute
resolution procedure and/or being assisted by TPAS as a good reason
for delaying complaining to him.
However, if there is a delay between us closing our file and you
complaint with the Pensions Ombudsman, that time will count towards
the three-year limit.
The onus is on you and not the TPAS adviser to ensure that you
comply with the Pensions Ombudsman's time limit. Most of our cases
do not end up with the Pensions Ombudsman but if you do think your
case could possibly do so, please make sure you do so within the
three-year time limit. If you have any questions about this, your
adviser will try to guide you.