UK - A High Court hearing could lead to sweeping changes in the pensions ombudsman's powers to backdate scheme membership, a leading law firm believes.
The court rejected the ombudsman’s decision in favour of part-time school assistant, Mrs E Shillcock, who claimed she was the victim of sexual discrimination by Uppingham School in Leicestershire because she was refused entry into the pension scheme.
But law firm Burgess Salmon believes comments made by Mr Justice Neuberger could have far-reaching implications on backdated membership.
In his concluding comments the judge said: “Although the ombudsman ordered that Mrs Shillcock should be offered membership of the scheme by reference to a date three years before her complaint, this temporal limit is said by Mr Kavanagh [the barrister representing Shillcock] to be inappropriate in the light of the decision in 'Preston v Wolverhampton Health Care'.
“Because of the conclusions I have reached on the other issues it is not necessary for me to deal with that point. However, I should say it appears to me that Mr Kavanagh’s argument is right in principle.”
Burges Salmon partner Colette Bewley said: “This may increase the number of cases presented to the pensions ombudsman if people are aware that it has this jurisdiction and if the three-year time limit is removed.
“I don’t anticipate a flood of cases but there may be some increase.”
She also believes that some cases may be brought against the ombudsman rather than via employment tribunals because a tribunal can only consider a case up to six months after the event happened, while the Ombudsman has three-years.
But Pinsent Curtis Biddle partner Alastair Meeks argued that employers and trustees would attempt to convince the ombudsman that it should be consistent with employment tribunal time limits.
He added: “The Ombudsman does not have to take every complaint within three-years, but it must not take one outside three years except in exceptional circumstances.”
By Paul Sanderson
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