The first three determinations of the new Pensions Ombudsman, Dominic Harris, have just been published on the Ombudsman’s website. Of these, the most interesting is Mr R (CAS-46822-W2V2, 7 February 2023) (which can be found here), where the complainant challenged a decision of the decision-maker under the NHS Pension Scheme not to award him an ill-health early retirement benefit. The determination is of particular interest for the clear statement of the principles which the Ombudsman will apply to a challenge to the decision-maker’s decision. The Ombudsman reiterated the position taken by his predecessor that his role was to consider the decision-making process undertaken by the administrator (para 47) and went on to say that he would generally look at whether:
- the appropriate evidence had been obtained and considered;
- the applicable scheme rules and regulations have been correctly applied;
- the decision was supported by the available relevant evidence (para 46).
If the decision-maker acted in accordance with these principles, the Ombudsman will not overturn the decision merely because he would have acted differently (para 47).
These principles are entirely orthodox, as are the Ombudsman’s statements that:
- the weight which is attached to any of the medical evidence is for the decision-maker to decide: it can prefer evidence from its own advisers unless there is a cogent reason why it should, or should not do so without seeking clarification (para 50);
- a decision to give little or no weight to any of the evidence is not the same as failing to consider it (para 51).
Whilst it is no surprise that the new Ombudsman has followed the correct legal principles in coming to his decision, the fact that he has set out those principles so prominently in his determination is to be commended, not least because this ought to be of assistance to a disappointed complainant, so that they can understand the reasons why their complaint has not been upheld.