The UK government has taken steps to allay trustees' fears over complying to regulations within the Data Protection Act.
Schemes have been assured that they “only have to follow the spirit of the Act”.
A major worry for schemes has been the workload.
Pensions administration manager for CGU plc CU Group Staff Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme, Paul Charles, said of his scheme's efforts to become compliant by October: We are just grinning and bearing it at the moment.
The 1998 Act – which is designed to increase the compulsory disclosure of scheme members' personal files – comes into force over six years.
But by October 23 all trustees and pension managers must offer scheme members full disclosure of their personal files.
The government’s information commissioner, Elizabeth France, told Alison Brown, pensions partner at City law firm Herbert Smith, that the commission does not expect or even have the resources to monitor full scheme compliance.But Marconi plc The GEC 1972 Plan pensions manager Rosemary Mount said: The problem is that each individual member has a lot of time to monitor the Act and we are already getting a lot of queries coming through.
Brown - who is currently working on a pension scheme guidance report for the Act - warned: “If any non-compliance is drawn to [the commissioner's] attention who finds that schemes have not been complying even with the spirit of the Act then she will come down very hard.”
Brown stressed that while failure to comply with full compliance would not be penalised, schemes are expected to take significant steps towards compliance.
The Act broadens the scope of the 1984 Data Protection Act and will now cover paper filing systems as well as electronic data.
Members will be allowed full access to trustees’ computer records as well as organised manual files – where previously only limited access to trustees’ computer records was required.
However, this section of the Act is not enforceable until 2007.
Trustees are classified as data controllers under the Act and must register with the government by October.
Registration can be made by telephone, letter or through the information commissioner's website at www.dataprotection.gov.uk.
Key practical advice for schemes seeking compliance Brown listed as follows:
• Trustees may consider deleting information they did not want disclosed or considered unnecessary.
• Manual data held before October 1998 will not be exempt from the act until October 2007.
• All new schemes set up since 1998 should already be complying with the Act.
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