The Board is asked to note the content of this report and make recommendations if any further action is required.
Andrew Marson, Pensions Lead Manager
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. The Pensions Lead Manager introduced the report and explained that actions had been put in place to steady the ship due to issues in the Pensions Administration department relating to resilience and resource. They were steadily growing their resource skills across the team, and overall the Pensions Lead Manager felt the service was in a good position.
2. The Board was informed about fire bulletins that had been released since the last meeting. It heard that Fire Bulletin 21 had sections concerned with age discrimination and transition protection, which was being felt across all public sector pension schemes. The service would keep a close eye on those issues as they were likely to result in a significant amount of work needing to be done. Fire Bulletin 21 also discussed the need to fund a Technical Advisor to support FRAs with their understanding and management of the Firefighters’ Pension Schemes, and the Vice-Chairman confirmed that the Chief Fire Officer had received a letter and that it was now a case of confirming payment had been made.
3. Moving on to page 19 of the report and the updated advice on terms of reference, the Vice-Chairman explained that the draft terms of reference produced by the Firefighters’ Pensions England Scheme Advisory Board would be used to make any future changes. These would need to go to the Audit and Governance Committee for approval but would first be agreed with Board Members.
4. Responding to a question about the June query log on page 20, the Pensions Lead Manager explained that query logs were used as reference source if administrators had a query that fell outside their sphere of knowledge.
5. Regarding the administration and benchmarking review discussed in Fire Bulletin 23, the Pensions Lead Manager informed the Board that a summary of the service’s findings had been produced and would be presented at the next meeting.
6. The Pensions Lead Manager explained that since writing the report the requirement for FRAs to provide the name, address, telephone number and email addresses for pensions managers had been completed by the 30 September 2019 deadline. He also informed the Board that a report was produced on the scoring for the quality of the data using the pensions regulator guidance. That had progressed well and they were hoping to receive the report from Heywoods in the following weeks.
7. The Board heard that the service was in a good place regarding split pensions and that paragraphs 19 through 22 of the report explained what had been found based on membership data.
8. The Pensions Lead Manager spoke about GMP reconciliation and explained that, from the perspective of the service, the progress of the project was in a comfortable place. It was agreed that he would report back on the progress made at the next meeting.
9. The Board turned its attention to Annex 1, which was a full list of tasks that had been undertaken during the reporting period. The Pensions Lead Manager explained that aged items had been found in the backlog and brought to the top of queue.
10. The Chairman questioned why the first actual retirement listed on Annex 1 stated that it took zero days to complete despite the case starting on 8 July 2019 and finishing on 16 July 2019. In response, the Pensions Lead Manager explained that when Pensions Administration officers asked for a piece of information, the clock was effectively stopped. The number of days completed column thus referred to the number of days’ worth of effort that were used in completing the task.
11. The Vice-Chairman asked if there was any way that information could be captured on when notifications were received, and for this to be separate from the actual days taken to complete cases.
12. The Chairman made reference to the retirement quote case on page 12 and the time taken to complete it, which was showing as zero actual days but had been completed over three and a half months after the case was started. The Pensions Lead Manager explained that the data included in Annex 1 acted as a flag for his team to ask questions and look into the cases in more detail.
13. The Board discussed cases relating to death letters and the time it had taken for the cases to be completed. The Pensions Lead Manager explained that these were legacy issues that were coming to light as the service worked through the backlog. He went on to say that a column would be added to the performance report that highlighted the number of days’ worth of effort that were used as well as the overall elapsed time.
14. Discussing the backlog of cases, the Pensions Lead Manager informed the Board that this formed a key part of the Service Improvement Plan and that the service were looking to outsource work to Shropshire County Council. This was because one of the main difficulties with the backlog within fire pensions was that it was much harder to find people with the skills needed to undertake the required administration tasks. The Pensions Lead Manager went on to explain that a draft contract for the outsourcing of work to Shropshire County Council had been received the previous week and was currently with Legal Services for feedback. It was subsequently agreed that a meeting would be organised for 12 December 2019 for the Board to review the contract and remediation plan.
Actions/further information to be provided:
1. The Pensions Lead Manager is to report at the next Board meeting on the progress made regarding GMP reconciliation.
2. The Pensions Lead Manager is to amend the performance report so that the overall elapsed time is highlighted alongside the number of days’ worth of effort.
3. The Pensions Lead Manager is to explore the possibility of capturing information on when notifications were received, and for this to be separated from the actual days taken to complete cases in future reporting.
4. A Board meeting is to be organised for 12 December 2019 to review the outsourcing contract and remediation plan.
5. The Pensions Lead Manager is to present at the next meeting of the Board a summary of the service’s findings regarding the administration and benchmarking review.
The Board noted the content of the report.