Andrew Carruthers looks at pensions dispute resolution

Andrew Carruthers

The growth of pensions disputes continues unabated. It leads to an understandable worry about costs and delay, although the originating summons procedures in RSC 0.28 provide a flexible litigation system, commended recently to Lord Woolf.

Nevertheless, it has rivals. There are attempts to encourage specialist alternative dispute resolution; will solicitors support this? More significant is the growth of the pensions ombudsman. He has for some time had jurisdiction to hear disputes of fact or law, not merely those relating to maladministration. His use has previously been limited, not least because complainants have to be scheme members (or those deriving through them).

There has been no jurisdiction to consider issues of construction involving trustee and employer alone. There is obscurity (which is currently being tested through the courts) as to the precise extent of his jurisdiction.

Will the pensions industry, faced with a dispute, look with more enthusiasm to the pensions ombudsman following the passage of the Pensions Bill? It will extend jurisdiction to disputes of fact or law arising between trustees and employers. It will grant extra resources to the ombudsman.

However, can an office of this sort adequately compete in dealing with major disputes, given the court's jurisdiction to make representation orders under RSC 0.15 binding various classes of beneficiary? For a trustee, in particular, this is a vital protection.

Further, if litigation becomes more efficient, and is operated effectively, there should be less, not more, need for competing organisations. The Chancery Division should develop its specialist expertise and leave the ombudsman to deal with those matters, particularly of maladministration, for which he was intended.

Andrew Carruthers is head of commercial litigation at Rowe & Mawe.