Delay Thwarts Pension Trustee’s £5.4 Million Negligence Claim

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The corporate trustee of a large occupational pension scheme, which claimed that its professional advisers negligently failed to follow instructions, has had its £5.4 million damages claim struck out – after it delayed too long before launching legal action.

The events in question went back to the early 1990s when the wind of change was in the air and retirement ages of men and women were being equalised. The trustee claimed that it had instructed its advisers – who provided actuarial and investment consultancy services – to execute modifications to the scheme so that employees of both sexes could retire and draw their pensions at the age of 65. Previously, the retirement age for female employees had been 60.

The trustee claimed that that instruction was not obeyed but that it had not discovered the failure to amend the scheme until a decade later. Belated attempts to retrospectively modify the scheme were ineffective and the trustee claimed to have suffered a £5.4 million loss, as well the £750,000 cost of investigating the debacle. The advisers denied liability.

The trustee’s professional negligence claim was dismissed by a judge on the basis that it had been brought far outside the three-year time limit which normally applies to such matters. Arguments that time only started running when the trustee became aware of the alleged error were rejected on the basis that someone in authority should have spotted it earlier. In dismissing the trustee’s appeal against that ruling, the High Court found no error of law in the judge’s conclusion that the claim had been brought too late.