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Pensions Ombudsman anonymity move will protect individuals, but could lead to vexatious claims, says expert

The UK Pensions Ombudsman has begun publishing adjudicators' opinions and formal ombudsman determinations on its website and will make the complainants anonymous in most cases.10 Jun 2016

The decision to anonymise complainants will protect them from pensions scams; but it appears to run counter to the principle of open justice and could lead to "vexatious" claims, said pensions litigation expert Charlotte Scholes of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

The move to publish more opinions is also not likely be welcomed by respondents, who will not be anonymous, Scholes said.

Most new published decisions will now be made anonymous, with no details of the person making the complaint unless that information is essential to understanding the decision or the Ombudsman decides for some other reason that it is relevant to name the complainant.

"If we are considering not anonymising a decision, or we are asked to do so by a party to the complaint, we will ask all parties involved in the complaint for their comments. However, ultimately, this will be a matter for the Ombudsman to decide on a case-by-case basis," it said.

Scholes said: "The introduction of anonymity for complainants would seem to be unusual given the age-old principle of open justice. In the courts, even in the most sensitive of cases, the ability to remain anonymous is the very rare exception rather than the rule, and applications for anonymity are subject to intense scrutiny."

"While we understand the need to protect individuals from scammers, this move could lead to more vexatious claims, which may clog up the system."

Adjudicators' opinions and formal determinations will now be published on the Pensions Ombudsman Service website if they are appealed to the Pensions Ombudsman or deputy Ombudsman, or if they are considered to be of interest, the Ombudsman said.

An example of an opinion "of interest" would be where a systematic administration error had occurred and the scheme changed its procedure to prevent it recurring, the Ombudsman said.

Scholes said: "Respondents are also now faced with the possibility that informal opinions, as well as determinations, may be published, leaving them exposed to more adverse publicity even in those cases where the complaint is not upheld."

Claire Ryan, legal director at the Pensions Ombudsman Service said, "The publication of a wider range of our decisions reinforces our intention to be open, transparent and accountable to the public."

"Our new policy on anonymisation reflects the prevailing approach of dispute handling schemes towards increased protection of personal information, while maintaining transparency in demonstrating our work and findings and giving guidance to the industry and consumers," she said