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Wrongs righted at painfully slow pace

Diana Sharpe lost almost Pounds 28,000 of her pension entitlement through opting out of the TSS.

David Budge explains why teachers who were mis-sold personal pensions are facing a long wait for compensation. Insurance companies worried by the amount of compensation being paid to teacher victims of the personal pensions scandal have persuaded the Government to re-examine the method of calculating the size of the awards.

The news that the Treasury has asked the Teachers' Pensions Agency to suspend work on compensation figures has coincided with a record award of Pounds 102,000 to a member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

This week the Treasury declined to comment and the TPA would say only that: "We are waiting for guidance before processing any more claims unless there are any good reasons for moving more quickly."

But TPA staff have told teacher unions unofficially that Government actuaries are being challenged over the factors that they build into the compensation calculations.

The Treasury's moratorium is only the latest in a series of delays which have frustrated teachers - and nurses and other public-sector workers - who feel they were wrongly advised to quit their occupational pension schemes.

Some delays have been caused by dilatory employers who have taken months to respond to letters from the TPA seeking information on the service records of teachers who opted out of the superannuation scheme. The Ministry of Defence has been particularly slow in this respect, says Mike Beard, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "It was asked to provide information on one of our members last November and it still hasn't arrived," he said.

Legal wrangles over the guidelines issued by the Securities and Investments Board (SIB), one of the regulators trying to ensure that the mis-selling complaints are dealt with according to a strict timetable, has also slowed down the compensation process.

But Marion Bird, one of the ATL's pensions specialists, said that some insurance companies also appeared to be dragging their feet. "Some companies have acted responsibly from day one but others have not. One can only assume that they hope the sums that the Government's actuaries are charging will come down if they delay things. Perhaps they also believe the longer they hold on to their money, the longer it is working for them. But if they are doing this it is at the expense of our members' peace of mind.

"I noticed, for example, that one company had recently sent out the questionnaire the SIB has recommended even though it had already obtained the same information from a previous questionnaire. They were playing it by the book, but also playing for time."

Marion Bird believes that the delaying tactics may well rebound on some companies, however, as the final settlement figures may be even higher.

"After all, the pensions agency calculates its figures on the basis of the teachers' salary, age, marital status etc," she said. "But the sums have to be adjusted after 90 days, or after a year of the member rejoining the superannuation scheme. And if the person has been promoted or had a pay rise the total inevitably rises."

The ATL is dealing with 230 claims from its members and has sent out self-help packs to another 150. But to date only 15 of the claims have been settled.

An idea of how long the compensation process is taking can be gauged from the fact that Wrexham teacher Susan Edgar, the first ATL member to lodge a compensation claim back in March 1993, has only recently received a payment of Pounds 7,591 from Guardian Financial Services.

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