Why do our pensions reports take so long to prepare?

With over 23 years in the world of pensions administration, Michelle Tandy explains the process of getting all of the relevant pension information from the various scheme administrators.

By Michelle Tandy - May 2021

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When we are instructed in a divorce case in respect of pension matters, the thing that takes the most time is getting all of the relevant pension information from the various scheme administrators.

I have recently joined Mathieson Consulting as part of the report writing team, having spent over 23 years in the world of pensions administration. I know first-hand the daily challenges many administration teams face when providing services to members, their families and third-party advisers.

To be honest, from a pensions administrator’s perspective, divorce cases are not a priority unless there is a Court date, or the statutory deadline has been reached. They are fiddley, time-consuming and all too often badly handled by solicitors and IFAs, particularly at the implementation stage. Also divorce quotations are competing with what seem to be more immediate member “life events” such as retirements, payment of spouse’s pensions and non-divorce related pension transfers. Unavoidably—if unhelpfully for us—they go to the bottom of the pile.

Invariably scheme administrators rely on standard information packs for divorce cases. The quality of these documents is very variable, some providing a wealth of information from which we can produce a detailed analysis and some with the barest minimum. Often therefore we have to request additional information in a follow up call or email: this is where the modern world seeks to frustrate us, with call centres and automated responses. Even when a reply is received, the level of detail is often lacking and the report writer will need to make a judgement call as to whether he/she can proceed to writing the report.

So, as you can see when we quote 20 weeks from receiving all letters of authority, we are being realistic based on our experiences to date.

“What can we do to make it faster?”, I hear you ask.

Many pension providers have interactive websites or member portals where members can log on and obtain up to date pension information, requesting or even producing retirement quotes, cash equivalent values or fund values. They can even download scheme booklets, early retirement factors and details of pensionable service. For example, in the public sector, the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and NHS Pension Scheme both have excellent member portals. Many private sector schemes and insurance companies have comparable services, and I would encourage your clients to take advantage of the quick access to information that these sites provide.

For State Pensions, an immediate forecast can be obtained by going to https://www.gov.uk/check-state-pension

In addition, there are some small things that can help:

  • Making sure that the scheme administrators have the current member’s address.  If not, then any letter of the authority we send will be declined and this will add to the timescales required to gather the relevant data
  • Ensure scheme administrator contact details provided to us are current and include a membership or policy number—we often have to chase around for precisely where a pension is held
  • A scheme member can speed things along by contacting the pension provider directly.  Pensions administrators are generally trying to do the right thing for members and a personal request will usually result in a quicker response than we might be able to achieve as a third party

All in all, we do the best that we can do expedite cases as quickly as possible, but I hope that the above gives you a flavour of some of the challenges that we face in so doing.

Michelle Tandy
Senior Pensions Analyst

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