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Actuaries get whistleblowing phone hotline

The new pensions regulator is to set up a telephone hotline for whistleblowing actuaries and auditors, who will be expected to report suspected problems in pension schemes.

The Pensions Act 1995, a result of the Maxwell scandal, becomes law on 6 April and will protect actuaries and scheme auditors who wish to give information on a confidential basis.

The Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, which formally starts work in April, also made clear yesterday that it expected to be tipped off about a wide range of minor problems found in pension schemes.

Opra does not want its informants to restrict themselves to suspicions of serious wrongdoing such as fraud or to communicate only through lawyers.

Opra said this was so that it could use the information about minor problems to see if it could identify patterns of behaviour among pension schemes that had difficulty complying with the new Pensions Act.

A spokesman said: "We want to avoid a situation where the only things reported to us are heinous crimes that are obviously breaches."

With more than 200,000 pension schemes to oversee and no powers to require annual reporting to the authority, "information and intelligence is the key", the spokesman said.

The whistleblowing line will be protected by Section 48 of the Act, though if the information is to be acted on it will have to be followed up in writing and it can be an offence to give wrong information.

Opra said oral advice during discussions over the whistleblowing line should not be treated as a binding decision by the regulator, and would be "without prejudice" to any subsequent decisions made on the case.

To encourage constructive use of Section 48, Opra said schemes should be confident that isolated initial breaches of the Act which brought no significant danger to members' pensions would "not, as a matter of course, lead to penalties".

The Institute of Actuaries and the Institute of Chartered Accountants both said they had yet to receive and study a copy of the consultation document.