Ombudsman delays ruling on pensions

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The Parliamentary Ombudsman has delayed the publication of a crucial report into the Government's advice over occupational pension schemes until the spring. It means thousands of impoverished pensioners must wait another five months to discover whether they will be paid compensation for the loss of their retirement savings.

In a letter to MPs seen by The Independent yesterday, Ann Abraham, the Ombudsman, said in spite of hoping to publish the report before the end of the year, it was now unlikely to be released before March 2006. She had originally indicated the report would be ready several months ago, and a draft version was ready this summer. It is believed to contain damning allegations against the Government, and opposition MPs have suggested that the latest delay may be down to Government stalling tactics.

The inquiry was launched last year in response to allegations that the Government misadvised thousands of pensioners by telling them their retirement income was guaranteed if they were a member of a final-salary scheme. In fact, many of these people went on to lose most or all of their pensions when their employers went bust, leaving large holes in the company pension fund.

Although the Government set up a £400m Financial Assistance Schemeto help compensate some of the victims, the true cost is thought to be £3bn. Many of those are already retired.

Ms Abraham said the delay was to allow the Government and pensions industry to react. She said: "The considerable complexity of the matters covered in my report means that it is not reasonable for me to expect responses to my findings within the normal timescale used in my investigations of individual cases."