In her determination in the case of Mr N (PO-25899), the Deputy Pensions Ombudsman (DPO) relied on GMP data held by HMRC to determine which pension scheme was liable to pay the member a pension in respect of the period from 1975 to 1986.
Mr N had worked for several different financial institutions during the course of his career. In 2017, he contacted the bank that he had worked for from 1975 until 1986 (“Bank A”) to enquire about the pension which he had accrued during that period. The trustees of Bank A’s pension scheme did not dispute that Mr N had worked for Bank A between 1975 and 1986 and accrued benefits in Bank A’s pension scheme. However, they denied that Mr N still had any benefit entitlement under Bank A’s scheme. The scheme administrator had no record of Mr N still having benefits under the scheme. The scheme administrator did not have details of any transfer out of Mr N’s pension rights, as it had deleted its record of Mr N in order to comply with the principle under data protection legislation that data should not be kept longer than necessary. The scheme administrator used HMRC’s GMP Checker service to establish whether Mr N had any GMP entitlement in respect of Bank A’s scheme, and the results showed that Bank A’s scheme no longer held any GMP liability for Mr N. The trustees believed that Mr N had transferred his pension rights out of Bank A’s scheme.
Following a complaint by Mr N to the Pensions Ombudsman, the DPO contacted HMRC to determine who was responsible for paying the GMP which Mr A had accrued in Bank A’s scheme. HMRC said that the GMP liability which Mr N had accrued under Bank A’s scheme had been transferred to the pension scheme of a building society (the Building Society) from which it had then been transferred to the pension scheme of a different bank (“Bank B”). The form which the administrator of the Building Society’s scheme had completed to notify HMRC of the transfer of Mr N’s GMP liability showed Mr N’s contracted-out service as having started on 6 April 1978 (ie at a point when Mr N was employed by Bank A).
The trustees of the Building Society’s scheme said that they had no record of a transfer from Bank A’s scheme to the Building Society’s scheme in respect of Mr N. They acknowledged that Mr N had accrued benefits in the Building Society’s scheme from 1 April 1986 until 16 July 1992. Their records showed that Mr N had transferred his accrued benefits to Bank B’s pension scheme in 1995.
The DPO concluded that it was more likely than not that the trustees of the Building Society’s scheme had failed to allow for Mr N’s transferred in benefits from Bank A’s scheme when calculating Mr N’s transfer value which was paid to Bank B’s scheme in 1995. Whilst the trustees of the Building Society’s scheme had no record of having received any transfer value in respect of Mr N, HMRC’s records showed clearly that liability for Mr N’s GMP accrued in Bank A’s scheme had been transferred to the Building Society’s Scheme and then to Bank B’s scheme. The DPO therefore upheld Mr N’s complaint. She ordered the trustees of the Building Society’s scheme to reconstruct the transfer of pension rights from Bank A’s pension scheme and provide Mr N with a deferred pension from the Building Society’s scheme.
Two key points coming out of this determination are (a) that in the event of a dispute over a benefit entitlement where the scheme holds no records, the Ombudsman will attach considerable weight to GMP records held by HMRC, and (b) that whilst the principles of data protection legislation generally require that personal data is kept no longer than is necessary, in the context of pension scheme records schemes may have a legitimate interest in retaining data in respect of a member who transferred out of the scheme many years ago.
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