42.1. The Board considered a report providing an update to the Pension Board on matters relating to Pensions Administration activities.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
42.2. PP outlined how the PAT performance had improved over Q2, 2021 to 95.4% of key tasks being completed within target date, compared to 92% in the previous quarter. He added that the Board should note that for Q3, 2021 service levels are expected to fall due to resources being diverted to the ABS project and high holidays levels and high volumes of post/enquiries being received, both as a result of the pandemic.
42.3. The Chair asked why there had been a higher than average number of leave days taken by staff from the PAT during August.
42.4. Paul Punter (PP) explained that staff had been encouraged to take this leave during August and September in part because they had TUPED over from Orbis with a lot of carried forward leave plus the leave accrued through their position on the new in-house team; and also because many had wanted a holiday to improve their wellbeing after the COVID-19 lockdown.
42.5. The Chair asked whether the PAT will be able to provide a report to the Board, as previously requested for the November meeting, on service level targets for the Fund compared to other administering authorities of the LGPS.
42.6. PP confirmed that the PAT will be rolling out new fund specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from 1st October, along with comparisons with statutory disclosure deadlines and those recommended by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). This will be as in addition to making comparisons with other administering authorities through various Groups.
42.7. The Chair asked whether the higher percentage of abandoned calls by the helpdesk, resulting in the team missing the gold standard, is a result of lockdown.
42.8. PP said that abandonment rates relate to the call answer time. Whilst a lot of calls are answered in the target of 20 seconds, some people are left on the call for a number of minutes and some of them will abandon the call as a result. PP clarified this waiting time was significantly lower than many utility firms where people may wait hours. The PAT is monitoring this performance and working towards the target of 75% of calls answered within 20 seconds.
42.9. The Chair asked whether there was anything the PAT wished to highlight about its response to last year’s Internal Audit review in light of the PAT now receiving reasonable assurance from Internal Audit following its latest review.
42.10. PP said the PAT is in a better place than last year in relation to the number and severity of issues, with all major issues resolved and the only outstanding being minor and largely in the process of being achieved. He said there will be other audits later in the year on other aspects of the PAT that should also be positive.
Annual Benefit Statement for 2020/21
42.11. PP clarified the latest Annual Benefit Statement (ABS) figures. He said he was impressed with the performance of the PAT in its first year as an in-house team, even if there could be improvements. PP said the number of deferred members who received their statement was 99.7% by the end of August, which is the same as last year, albeit last year the deadline had been extended to October due to COVID-19, so the same figure was achieved in less time. Active members, who are more challenging to send ABS to in time, because they are dependent on quality data being received from the employers as part of the year end process, saw a figure of 95.9% compared to 97.2% last year, again over a longer period. PP said there are 22,816 active members and 21,871 ABS were issued on time. There are 125 employers with active members and the Fund managed to get an end of year return from i-Connect or paper for all of them. This data generated 2,500 queries, of which majority had been cleared, however, circa 900 queries, remain outstanding in part due to some of the queries not being raised by the PAT until mid-August.
42.12. PP said that the final queries are being assessed and the Board will be given an update via email, including a breakdown of which employers the data is from and any error codes. The PAT will continue to resolve these outstanding issues over the next few weeks and has one member of staff dedicated to carry out this task to completion. This mean the total number of ABS issued will improve beyond 95.9%, however, the remainder will be prepared after the statutory deadline.
42.13. The Chair asked whether these outstanding queries were related to employer errors rather than problems with the Fund’s system miscalculating pension entitlements.
42.14. PP said the majority of the queries were related to late provision of data and queries thereon supplied by employers. The largest number were from Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC), who had around 1,000 queries, although the employer has improved since last year. The East Sussex College Group, another previous poor performer, are now on i-Connect and this has reduced the number of outstanding queries from the Group to a respectable 30-40, albeit with a full time PAT member assisting them. The 900 figure also includes casual workers where it is not clear from the data if they are still employed or have left. PP said there are at least 125 such ‘casuals’. This issue should be resolved when the agreed two-year limit on retaining members in the system as casuals is reviewed. After that point, they will be changed in the system to leavers.
42.15. PP added that a few of the queries were due to ABS needing to be manually recalculated, but only where they were very complex, for example, issues around divorce calculations. These were fed back to Aquila Heywood, but the software provider felt the issue is not widespread enough to make any changes to their system. This is partly because many pension funds only state whether a pension has a divorce debit or credit rather than provide the actual figures like the PAT tries to do.
42.16. SO asked whether the ABS would need to be reported as a breach of the regulations as the number issued was not 100%.
42.17. PP said no Administering authority will achieve 100%. Last year’s figures had been reported to the Pensions Regulator, but as more of an update to the Regulator from the Chair of the Board. The numbers are remarkably similar this year and, on that basis, PP felt that, although it was a breach, it was not a reportable breach. The Chair clarified it is up to the Board Members to determine whether a breach was reportable by them to the Regulator as a material breach. He suggested that the Board should consider this at the next meeting once they had received the full report, but it sounded like the PAT was in a good place and on top of the issues with employers. The Board agreed to consider it at the next meeting.
42.18. The Chair asked for an update on the number of employees who had been affected by the new Abatement Policy.
42.19. PP said that it was a work in progress. The new abatement policy was now in place and any new employees re-joining the Council will be told there is no abatement in place for their pension. There are two historical categories of abatements – those who had their pension stopped (suspended) totally, and those who had it partially reduced. The PAT has now identified the 20 members who had their pension abated fully and have reinstated it, backdated to April 2021. The second category is being looked at now and the PAT believes it is a bigger group but significantly more difficult to identify. The PAT has had conversations with Aquila Heywood about how to identify them and will do so over the next couple of months. There will also be communications to all employees (via newsletters) in the meantime about the abatement policy and how to contact the PAT if they believe it had been applied to them in the past.
Suspensions of pensions in payment
42.20. LW asked how many of the 16 pensions suspended in payment last year, due to the recipient being oversees and having not responded to attempts at contact, had resulted in the pensioner making contact.
42.21. PP said nine responded but the others remain suspended but on the system.
42.22. The Board RESOLVED to:
1) note the report;
2) congratulate the Pensions Administration Team on the ABS results, particularly due to the difficulties caused by COVID-19; and
2) request that details of the ABS performance be circulated to the Board by email.