The Bedfordshire Local Pension Board has been told that lockdown restrictions and staffing issues have meant deadlines set by the pension fund have not been set.
In a meeting, last week (2 September) Claire Bennett, pensions administration manager for Bedfordshire Pension Fund, told the board these targets were “best practice guidelines” and not meeting them did not exceed the statutory guidelines.
However, The Pensions Regulator has directed administrators to focus on the payment of pensions, payment of lump sums, dealing with bereavements and minimising the risk of scams for the first four months of the national lockdown.
A report to the board said focusing on these had meant other areas had areas suffered.
The board was told that the Pensions Regulator accepts some administrative breaches of the law may occur over the pandemic period, and it will maintain a “proportionate and fair approach” to any action it may take.
The Pensions Regulator website says that when it receives a report of a breach it has discretion over whether to take action and, if so, what action to take.
Actions available include assistance to achieve compliance and imposing fines.
Breaches by the Pension Fund have been recorded, however, to date, no breaches have been reported to the regulator.
Councillor Mike Blair (Central Bedfordshire Council) asked: “Why is there such a wide gap between the Bedfordshire Pension Fund best practice and the number of days laid down by The Pensions Regulator?”
The report presented to the meeting showed that the differences between the best practice days to complete set by the Pension Fund and those set by the regulator range from 20 to 80 days.
Claire Bennett replied: “Historically, ten working days has been the target for this fund. We always try to do what’s good for the members, as they are who we are here for.
“If you put in a request for something, you want to get a response as quick as you can.”
Julie McCabe, the chief officer, corporate finance and pensions, added: “We aspire to high standards, and in most cases, we are achieving them.”
Councillor Blair responded: “I wonder how long it’ll be before the Regulator catches up with us.”
Lack of staff
One of the issues highlighted to the board was the lack of staffing. As well as vacant positions, two members of staff are also on maternity leave.
Gerard Moore, the Board’s independent chair asked if there are any difficulties in recruiting locally?
“We have been through a recruitment process fairly recently”, responded Julie McCabe, “and we weren’t successful.
“So I would say it is challenging to recruit, although it shouldn’t be, based on that we are working from home, which gives us opportunities to recruit from wider than the local area.
“We need to think about our recruitment processes; where and how we advertise, what posts we are looking for and where the best places to recruit are.”
The Board voted to record a minute to acknowledge its gratitude to the pension team for meeting deadlines despite the challenging conditions.
by John Guinn Local Democracy Reporter
and Bedford Independent’s Paul Hutchinson