Equitable pessimistic on Ombudsman

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Equitable Life's chief executive, Charles Thomson, admitted yesterday he is not holding out much hope for any help from the Parliamentary Ombudsman, acknowledging that even if her forthcoming report finds the Government guilty of maladministration, it is unlikely to adhere to her recommendations.

The Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has been investigating the Government's regulation of Equitable for the past two years and is due to report towards the end of this year.

Although preliminary indications have suggested she is likely to find the Government guilty of maladministration in relation to its supervision of the insurer, Mr Thomson said the Government's dismissal of the Ombudsman's recent report into occupational pensions was not a good sign. "I'm afraid I'm not overly hopeful," he said. "It will be interesting to see her report. But if she does find evidence of maladministration, there's no guarantee the Government will adhere to her recommendations."

Earlier this year, the Ombudsman recommended that the Government pay full compensation to 125,000 workers who lost their occupational pensions, claiming it was guilty of maladministration. But the Government brushed off her report. The victims are taking the decision to judicial review.

Mr Thomson's comments came as Equitable unveiled its interim results, which showed it to be on its strongest financial footing for more than five years. The CEO said the company was still exploring a possible sale of part or all of the business, but conceded there were considerable obstacles, such as the business's mutual status.