Gareth Stears – 2 November 2020

When ordinary people have disputes with their pension scheme, the Pensions Ombudsman Service is there as an honest broker

The Service is free to the user, paid for from the general levy on pension schemes. Its troupe of 200+ volunteers from the industry is essential for providing this valuable service on a tight budget.

I’ve been in the troupe for five and a half years. I don’t say this expecting gratitude. For me, this isn’t a selfless deed (even if there is such a thing). I get tonnes in return for my efforts beyond even the warm feeling you get helping a stranger. That’s just a bonus.

First, it’s been a neat extra feature on my CV. The other things I do outside of work (holidays, football, “socialising”) don’t have much to enthuse potential employers. If anything, they suggest a ‘yob’. Given up my spare time to do more pensions though. That suggests a genuine interest in my field, and some public-spiritedness (or so they think!).

I’ve learnt so much over those years. Explored corners of the industry I would otherwise be oblivious to. My career has barely grazed the worlds of SIPPs, SSASs, or Master Trusts, but I’ve delved deep into their Rulebooks to help my customer.

You need some pensions experience, but you don’t need to know everything about everything. There’s an extensive library of easy-to-follow technical research available on their dedicated volunteer site, and free access to the superlatively useful Aries Insight service (full disclosure: Aries is my day job). After dealing with a couple of overpayment cases, I felt expert enough to write an article on the subject.

They put on free briefing sessions on pension news and cash handling advice; great for CPD. The casework itself also counts, so I meet my CPD quota easily each year, and it doesn’t cost me or my employer a penny in attendance fees.

You can drop the ‘work’ from ‘casework’. I look forward to receiving a new file in the post. They’re exciting to read. You have a protagonist, an antagonist, and a conflict; all you need for great drama. And I play my part. I’m the wise guide they meet on the way. I’m Gandalf.

And yes, there is that warm feeling too. People are genuinely grateful for help. The word ‘pensions’ fills so many with anguish. The fact I’m not bewildered by the whole thing seems to impress people. They like having someone on their side who understands. Though to be clear, we are impartial mediators. It helps both sides to have a go-between.

The service is important to our industry as well. We tend to get involved in disputes that have become intractable. We resolve a surprising number before they become formal complaints. It means the reputation of pensions isn’t harmed as much, or as often. It means people feel confident enough to keep saving.

Don’t look at your schedule and think, “That sounds great, but…” The Service’s volunteer handlers are very understanding and flexible. You can take on as much workload as you want to handle at any time.

So go ahead, be a little more selfish; volunteer with the Pension Ombudsman Service.

If you are interested in applying, go to

If you would like to find out more about volunteering, email

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