David Laverick - a former local government ombudsman but with no previous pensions experience - is the UK's new pensions ombudsman.
His appointment - which was announced by work and pensions secretary Alistair Darling - is effective from September 1. Pension lawyers said Laverick would face a steep learning curve and warned that the present high work rate on determinations might drop until he gets to grip with his new post.
However outgoing pensions ombudsman Julian Farrand said: I did not know the pensions industry either when I started, but I had a lot of assistance from our two casework directors who are both from within the pensions industry.
Laverick dismissed concerns over possible difficulties in his coming to terms with complicated pension regulation, and said: Clearly it is a challenge to go into a new field of activity as a lawyer, but I am pretty used to picking up briefs and getting expertise in a particular area. He added: I think that one of the key features of the ombudsman is that you are there as an intelligent lay person rather than coming from within the industry.
But CMS Cameron McKenna partner Mark Grant said: It is a shame that they could not find a suitable candidate with hands on experience of the occupational pensions industry and the intricacies of pensions law. But one of the problems of getting someone from within the industry is that they would be bound to have conflicts of interest.
The advertisement for the position of pensions ombudsman raised eyebrows when it stated that knowledge of pensions was merely advantageous. A spokesperson for the department for work and pensions defended the appointment and said: Mr Laverick was seen as the most suitable candidate because of his adjudication experience.
Laverick, 55, spent 20 years in the office of the local government ombudsman as director for the north of England. His current post is chief executive of the Family Health Service Appeal Authority based in Harrogate, a post which involves determining appeals made to the secretary of state for health as well as managing the administration of its appeals service.
Laverick described himself as a big sports fan - previously a Football Association referee, he currently follows the fortunes of York City.
By David Rowley
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