Saver spent eight months fearing £4,000 of his retirement pot had vanished until we got pension firm to finally track it down
A saver has hit out at bungled admin at NOW: Pensions after nearly £4,000 of his contributions apparently vanished and he was unable to track them down for more than eight months.
Grant Walker, 44, bombarded the pension firm with appeals for confirmation it had received his money and invested it on his behalf, but claims he was fobbed off with generic replies.
After Mr Walker turned to This is Money for help, NOW boss Morten Nilsson intervened personally to say sorry for the inconvenience and worry caused by the delay in processing his contributions, which was now resolved. He also offered £100 as a gesture of goodwill.
Pension worry: Grant Walker spent more than eight months trying to confirm NOW: Pensions had received his contributions and invested them
The Pensions Advisory Service, which gives free help to the public, said it had received reports of problems at NOW: Pensions since the firm changed its outsourced administrator, but did not reveal how many were involved.
It added nearly all complaints about NOW raised through its service had been sorted out, although this had taken some time.
‘NOW: Pensions should be rebranded to NEVER: Pensions’, said Mr Walker, who is angry his money was left in limbo for so long.
The building service designer from Chelmsford in Essex was trying to max out his contributions, paying in up to 20 per cent of his salary to boost his retirement savings, while doing contract work through two recruitment agencies.
However, he found out payments made between May 2016 and April this year, eventually totalling £3,812.88, hadn’t gone into his NOW pot when he checked his account with the pension provider, and became worried this money had not been invested to grow his eventual retirement fund.
He was also concerned that NOW hadn’t confirmed the amount he had in a second much smaller pot, estimated at £135.88, which was saved while he worked for a separate recruitment agency for a few months in 2016.
Ultimately, Mr Walker wants to transfer both his NOW pots to Aviva, which runs the pension scheme at his current employer, but he had to put this plan on hold until his records were settled.
He began to ask questions of NOW last summer, making calls as well as sending emails and letters. Mr Walker also frequently emailed his main recruitment agency, which tried to assist by contacting NOW on his behalf and pressing it to sort out his contribution history.
The agency told Mr Walker it believed the reason his contributions were not recorded by NOW was due to an encrypted files problem, he said.
In several letters sent to Mr Walker by NOW and seen by This is Money, the pension firm said it needed to agree with his employer that all relevant information had been presented before his personal records could be updated.
In one letter dated last December, it also wrote: ‘Please be assured that this does not necessarily mean that your employer has not provided us with your data and contributions or that your data and your pension contributions have been lost.
‘We just need to ensure that the information has been recorded correctly in all of our systems and find out why it has not transferred through to us.’
NOW makes mention of appreciating Mr Walker’s ‘patience’ in a number of the letters.
Morten Nilsson: NOW boss says sorry for inconvenience and worry caused by delay processing contributions from employer
In one of them, the firm says it will consider his request for compensation once ‘data issues’ have been resolved.
NOW sorted out the problem the day after This is Money got in contact about the case.
Morten Nilsson, chief executive of NOW: Pensions, said: ‘I’m very sorry for the inconvenience and worry we have caused Mr Walker.
‘We experienced a delay processing contributions from one of Mr Walker’s employers. We therefore undertook a full reconciliation to ensure complete accuracy and to make sure his account was entirely up to date.
‘This process did take longer than we’d hoped, but is now complete. We will ensure Mr Walker’s funds are available for Aviva to receive by the end of this month and as a gesture of goodwill we have offered to credit £100 to his account.
‘We have also credited the investment gains for the short period that his fund remained uninvested.’
People with a complaint about a pension provider or scheme can let the Pensions Advisory Service liaise with it and attempt to negotiate a settlement on their behalf, and then take their case on to the Pensions Ombudsman if they are still unhappy with the outcome.
TPAS chief executive Michelle Cracknell said: ‘NOW: Pensions outsources its administration and changed the third party administration.
‘There have been a number of issues with administration that have taken time to resolve with the new administration provider. NOW: Pensions has been working through these issues but cases have gone to the ombudsman.’
She added: ‘We have liaised with NOW about the problems reported to us and we are pleased to report that, with their co-operation, it has helped us resolve nearly all the complaints raised with us although it has taken some time.’
Resolving: TPAS chief executive Michelle Cracknell
Cracknell went on: ‘Any administration problem can have widespread effect. But the consequences are obviously greater for a very large scheme.
‘Trying to put things right can be time consuming and difficult if more than one party is involved, and exaggerated by the number of affected members that need to be communicated to and their problems corrected.
‘In large operations like this, contributions and data will be being supplied by large numbers of employers and it all requires reconciliation by the administrator.
‘It’s important that data is accurate, on time and systems work efficiently. But if things do go wrong it’s also important that your concerns are handled well.’
Where can you turn if you are unhappy with a pension provider?
You should complain direct in the first instance. But you can also ask the Pensions Advisory Service for help, and you have the option of taking your case to the Pensions Ombudsman if you are dissatisfied by any outcome.
Cracknell said there are a number of areas where the administration of pensions can go wrong, including mistakes or system failure by the provider, incorrect data from the employer, late or no data from the employer, or the data not matching the contributions paid.
‘This can make it very frustrating for the customer who may feel that he is being pushed from pillar to post and no one is taking responsibility for the error,’ she said.
‘If you suffer payment delays, which you think have caused you to be worse off, you should be looking to your pension provider/scheme to put you back in the position you would have been in had everything been done on time.
‘The first thing to do is register the issue with the provider/scheme. Keep a record of your contacts with the scheme. It’s reasonable to expect them to be acknowledged and for the scheme to tell you what they are doing to put things right. Give them time to reply.
‘If you hear nothing in a reasonable timescale or are unhappy with their response, contact the Pensions Advisory Service. The TPAS helpline can be contacted at any time for help on what to do.’
TPAS can be found here and its number is 0300 123 1047.
If you cannot resolve the issue yourself or via TPAS, the Pensions Ombudsman has legal powers to settle complaints and disputes, and its service is also free.
It considers information from all parties involved in a case before reaching any decision. The ombudsman aims to close cases within 11 months on average.
The Pensions Ombudsman can be found here and its number is 020 7630 2200.