The trustees of a pension scheme are the people, acting separately from the employer, who hold the assets invested in the scheme for the benefit of the participants. Trustees are legally obliged to make all scheme-related decisions with the beneficiaries' interests in mind, and may be liable for damages if they do not do so.
Every pension scheme is different. New trustees should look at the scheme rules and booklet, minutes of recent trustees' meetings, the latest auditor's report and scheme funding documents. If the scheme rules are long, ask if a short summary is available.
Many pension schemes have training at trustee meetings and there is plenty of online training available on the website of the Pensions Regulator, the UK body which oversees work-based pension schemes. This training covers a range of topics, and does not have to be completed in one go.
Make sure that trustee meeting packs are sent out in plenty of time, so you have a chance to read these properly. Don't be afraid to raise queries before the meeting, or to ask for more advice if you feel it is needed before a decision can be made. Also, make sure that minutes are prepared promptly before people forget what was discussed.
Consider conflicts of interest
Trustees are there to act in the interests of the scheme members. These include those currently earning benefits under the scheme, and also those who have left or retired. If you do this, and put any conflicts of interest to one side, you are unlikely to go wrong.
Any conflicts of interest should be recorded on becoming a trustee so steps can be taken to manage these. Potential conflicts could include being a member of the scheme itself, or being a director or shareholder of the employer company.
Pension schemes need good advisers. You should ensure that they give advice in a way you understand, and you should say if this isn't the case. Remember that advisers are only there to offer advice – the final decision and responsibility lies with the trustee.
Sometimes, trustees have to make difficult decision. If the issues are properly considered, advice is taken where appropriate and a sensible decision is made, the courts are likely to respect that it is the trustees' decision that counts.
Many schemes contain provisions designed to protect the trustees from personal legal responsibility, or liability, for the results of decisions that they make. Some trustees may also have insurance policies. Make sure that you understand what protection is in place, but try not to rely on this too much.
Although the role of trustee is a serious one, trustees who act honestly and reasonably rarely get into trouble.