Launch of the 2004 Annual Report of the Pensions Ombudsman
- A very balanced team is drawn from both the public and private sectors and is very well equipped to deal with all types of complaints in relation to pensions.
- The opening of the Pensions Ombudsman's office was another important element in the reform process which commenced with the passing of the Pensions Amendment Act, 2002. The introduction of Personal Retirement Accounts being the other major initiative launched at that time.
- Pensions are and will remain key concerns for our society. It is, therefore, very important that people should have assurance that their pensions are secure and are being administered properly.
- Also important that they should have an avenue of appeal to allow them to have their complaints heard in an effective and inexpensive manner.
- The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman was established to provide this avenue of appeal. The Ombudsman can investigate and make determinations in relation to allegations made by pension scheme members that they have suffered financial loss as a result of maladministration by a person responsible for the management of a scheme or
- The Office complements the regulatory role of the Pensions Board. Both Offices have helped to provide an increased level of assurance to the consumer.
- The Office has now been in operation for just over two years and business has been brisk and continues to grow.
- Since its opening to the end of 2004 the Office has received over 450 official complaint cases and has dealt with over 1,500 telephone queries. In addition there have been over 8,000 hits each month on its website.
- What this clearly demonstrates that the Office is providing a much needed and worthwhile service to the Irish consumer.
- I am pleased to see that a good many cases investigated are actually resolved by mediation.
- While the prime function of the office is to resolve complaints in relation to pensions it can also highlight issues and difficulties in relation pensions legislation.
- In his report the Pensions Ombudsman has highlighted a number of issues. I can assure him that I and my Department will fully consider any issues or suggestions which arise in the report.
- The Ombudsman has produced a very useful digest of cases which outlines some of the more interesting cases that he has dealt.
- I am particularly struck by the number of complaints that have occurred primarily because of a poor communication – or a complete lack of it - on the part of pension providers, rather than because of a particular problem with the pension scheme
- At a time when we are trying to encourage people to plan better for their retirement it is important that they are not discouraged from taking out pension plans because of either the perceived complexity of the products on offer or the complexity of the language being used.
- We can all learn lessons from the complaints received and the action taken to ensure that the risk of similar errors in the future is diminished.
- In fairness, and it is heartening to see, the Pensions Ombudsman has found that, in general, what has gone wrong is outweighed many times over by what has gone right.
Pensions as an issue of increasing importance are now firmly on the national agenda.
Earlier this year I asked the Pensions Board to bring forward the statutory review on pension strategy by more than a year because I felt this country is failing to mobilise sufficient numbers of people to start contributing to pensions for their later life.
That review was now nearing completion and it is my intention to publish it within weeks so as to generate a robust debate at national level on the future shape and direction of pensions policy in Ireland.
I passionately believe that after a lifetime of work and contribution to the building of this country everyone in later life is entitled to a decent pension.
As the situation now stands, out of a current workforce of 2 million, in the region of 900,000 do not have a private or occupational pension.
Unless this trend is aggressively addressed and reversed then hundreds of thousands of people face into a retirement on the basic social welfare pension of less than €10,000 a year. That is why the forthcoming review is of such national importance and I am confident that it will deliver recommendations that that will be central to deciding and shaping future policies.
- I congratulate the Pensions Ombudsman and his staff on the great strides that he has made since his Office was established and wish him continued success in the future.