Pension complaints nearly double

The minister for social protection is waiting for the High Court judgment on the Waterford Crystal pension scheme before she delivers recommendations to the Government on wider pension reforms.

On Apr 25, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Irish State was liable for the defined pensions of former Waterford Crystal employees.

The workers took a case against the Government when the defined scheme and the company were both deemed insolvent.

The case is back with the High Court and it will determine to what percentage of their pensions the workers are entitled among other issues.

The minister will then consider what legislative measures can be taken to protect the State in the event of similar cases in the future.

There is no timetable for when the High Court will deliver its judgment. However, it is expected later this year.

Joan Burton was speaking at the launch of the Pension Ombudsman’s 2012 annual report. There was a significant increase in the number of complaints received by the office over the course of last year.

There were 2,189 new cases compared with 1,221 in 2011. There were 677 cases completed during the year compared with 557 the previous year.

Paul Kenny, the Pensions Ombudsman, expressed concern at the length of time it was taking to complete a detailed investigation. In 2010 it took 81 weeks, it rose to 127 weeks in 2012.

Mr Kenny warned that a number of cases of “pension unlocking” had come to his attention last year.

Agencies, mostly based in Britain, are targeting pensioners with offers to get early access to their retirement funds by exporting their pensions to countries such as Cyprus and New Zealand.

“Pension liberation can lead to pension loss. The Revenue Commissioners have strict rules about getting early access to pension benefits.

“Don’t forget that tax reliefs on contributions are given on the basis that most of the benefits will be taxable here. This sort of tax tourism is ripping off the State,” said Mr Kenny.

The office of the Pensions Ombudsman is merging with the Financial Services Ombudsman.

Mr Kenny has deferred retirement to oversee the merger of the two.

An alternative dispute resolution has also been set up in cases of pensions disputes in an effort to avoid a costly legal process.

The OECD review of the Irish pensions sector was delivered last year. There has been criticism of the Government that there has been little progress on pensions reform.

“They [OECD] provide a wide choice of measures for consideration which involve a number of government departments and the Government will consider these measures in due course,” said Mr Burton.


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