Equitable report delay blamed on the Government

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The Independent Online

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has written to MPs conceding that the publication of her report into the regulation of Equitable Life is to be delayed for at least five months, taking the total length of the inquiry close to three years.

The latest delay has been caused by the Government's failure to deliver a large volume of paperwork relating to the life insurer's regulation immediately after it closed for business at the end of 2000.

In her letter, Ms Abraham says that she does not now expect to file her preliminary report to the Government before January, with the final report - to be made public - consequently certain to not be published before May 2007.

Last year, when the Ombudsman was investigating the Government's regulation of the occupational pensions market, it took the Department of Work & Pensions nine months to respond to the Ombudsman's preliminary findings.

Paul Braithwaite, the general secretary of the Equitable Life Members Action group (Emag), said it was disgraceful that the report had been held up by the Government. "This is a bitter blow for policyholders as many of them are dying, month by month, year by year - and this has now been going on since December 2000."

Mr Braithwaite added that he was concerned the report was deliberately being held up to ensure that it is not published ahead of the forthcoming report from the European Parliament, which is also investigating the Government's role in the regulation of Equitable. The MEPs are due to publish their findings in April, and will now not have the benefit of first seeing the Ombudsman's findings.

Although the Ombudsman is expected to find the Government guilty of maladministration, it remains unclear how it will respond to another damning report from Ms Abraham's office.

Earlier this year, it dismissed her demands to pay compensation to the 120,000 people who lost their occupational pensions when their companies went bust. The victims of the pensions scandal are taking the Ombudsman's decision to judicial review.

Last month, Equitable's chief executive Charles Thompson said he was not "overly hopeful" that the Government would accept the Ombudsman's recommendations if she did find it guilty of maladministration.

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