The innovative scheme is aimed principally at those policyholders who took out guaranteed annuity rate policies and who are now retired, of which there are some 80,000.
Equitable ran a national tender for the scheme last year as part of its response to the July 2000 House of Lords ruling.
It is currently making offers to this band of policyholders, but those who do not accept the terms can opt to take their dispute to the Bevan Ashford team, led by head of commercial litigation and trained mediator Ian Daniells.
“The beauty of being independent is that people will talk to us. Our fees are paid by Equitable, but we'll make decisions against Equitable if we need to”
Ian Daniells, Bevan Ashford
Bevan Ashford will be paid by Equitable for the time it spends on the disputes rather than the results it achieves, and the firm will act entirely independently of the mutual. A condition of the tender was that the competing firms could not have an existing relationship with Equitable.
On a case-by-case basis, Daniells' team will first speak to both sides to establish the areas of the dispute and establish compromise solutions. If an agreement cannot be reached, Daniells or one of his deputy assessors will make a decision on the case. This is binding on Equitable but not on the policyholder, who can still go to the ombudsman or to court.
“The beauty of being entirely independent is that people will talk to us, we hope, in a manner in which they wouldn't speak to Equitable itself,” said Daniells. “We can explore settlement opportunities because we're independent. Our fees are paid by Equitable, but we'll make decisions against Equitable if we need to.”