We have previously commented on legislation introduced as part of the process to amalgamate the offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Ombudsman (see post of 27 May 2016 below). The decision to amalgamate the offices was made by the Government in 2013 following a recommendation from the OECD. Two draft bills (The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill and a Private Members Bill) providing for the formal amalgamation of the offices were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach late last year. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a relatively new aspect of the Irish legislative process where draft legislation is reviewed and scrutinised by parliament (normally through committees) before a final version is drafted.
While the legislation is yet to be finalised and the offices are yet to be formally amalgamated, the position of Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO) and that of Pensions Ombudsman is currently held by one individual, Mr Ger Deering. At a recent presentation given by Mr Deering to members of the Association of Pension Lawyers in Ireland, Mr Deering indicated that he did not expect significant changes to the manner in which complaints to the Pensions Ombudsman are dealt with on foot of the new legislation. Rather, steps have been taken to bring the FSO’s office and practices more in line with those of the Pensions Ombudsman. In particular, a new Dispute Resolution Service was introduced for FSO complaints which it is hoped will be more flexible, informal and allow for earlier resolution of disputes. In addition, it is intended that this new process will result in informal methods of dispute resolution (including mediation and conciliation) becoming the first and preferred options for resolving complaints with investigations and formal adjudications being seen as a last resort.
Parties to Pensions Ombudsman complaints should be aware of this increased focus on informal resolution of complaints. It is also worth noting that there is provision within the draft Bill to allow for the publication of Pensions Ombudsman decisions in anonymized form (to date, only summaries of selected cases have been published by the Pensions Ombudsman’s office). If this provision is included in the final Bill, it will provide useful guidance to complainants and respondents on how the Pensions Ombudsman might adjudicate in any given case and could lead to more cases being dealt with by mediation instead of formal adjudication.