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Scheme administration: COVID-19 guidance for trustees and public service

As a trustee or someone running a public service scheme, it’s important to work with your administrators and focus on critical processes, as well as being flexible and pragmatic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing huge pressures on the administration of pension schemes.

It will likely affect non-critical scheme and member services, and service level agreement targets. Breaches may occur in certain areas.

Published: 2 April 2020.

What should you do?

Assess whether your business continuity plan is still adequate and contact your administrator or service provider to find out what contingency is in place to mitigate their impact of increases in work volumes or unavailable staff.

Work with your administrators to make sure they deliver critical processes. These include:

  • paying members’ benefits
  • retirement processing
  • bereavement services, as well as any administrative functions required to support these
  • any processes needed to ensure benefits are accurate (eg investing contributions for defined contribution schemes)

Confirm this priority order with your administrators or providers and work with them if there are any issues with these activities.

You should work flexibly with your administrators to support them in delivering core functions. This may include the following:

  • Agreeing changes in operating procedures. This might be around discretionary decisions, or payments that are normally made by cheque. You should also allow electronic signatures and documents and encourage other third-party providers to do the same (eg fund managers). The legal validity of electronic signatures has been endorsed in a recent statement from government.
  • Holding higher than usual amounts in bank accounts. This will ensure payments can be made, even if there is a delay in disinvestment processes.
  • Reducing the burden on administrators by limiting any non-critical demands and queries.

Additionally, be vigilant and make sure members are not rushed into any financial decisions. They might look to transfer their pension during this uncertain time and could be targeted by scammers.

The Pensions Ombudsman has confirmed it will take into account our latest guidance on COVID-19 issues if it receives complaints about delays caused by COVID-19 circumstances. Read The Pensions Ombudsman statement on COVID-19.

What can your administrators do?

They should make you aware of any risks to the core processes and activities described above.

New or updated process should be in line with the PASA COVID-19 guidance for administrators.

They should also set out which processes, functions or projects are being affected, and keep a log of non-priority queries and actions to deal with when capacity allows.

Trustees, scheme managers and administrators should contact us if they believe they will be unable to pay members’ benefits on time. We are reviewing our reporting requirements and will be issuing further advice on this shortly.