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How to… manage communications

1. Keep it simple

Misunderstandings arising from written communications often lead to disputes. Try to keep the language simple and avoid technical terms. Are concepts clearly expressed? Think about your audience and tailor the communication accordingly. A final ‘sense check’ can help.

2. Take care with scheme booklets

Scheme booklets can easily become inaccurate and out-of-date. Schedule regular reviews, and ensure each version has a date stamp. Explain that the booklet is only a summary and is subject to the rules – using a clearly worded, visible disclaimer can help with claims based on an inaccurate booklet.

3. Look beyond the detail

Getting the detail right is important, but don’t forget to think about the overall impression and any member expectations that might be created by the communications.

4. Stick to the facts

Avoid giving advice to members – provide members with the information that they need to make an informed decision. Suggest they seek independent advice where appropriate.

5. Be aware of statutory requirements

There are a number of circumstances in which schemes are legally required to provide information to members. Familiarise yourself with these and monitor scheme compliance. Require administrators to provide regular reports on their performance in meeting these requirements.

6. Check communications for accuracy

Ensure that draft communications receive a technical and/or legal review for accuracy. Inaccurate communications can come at a high price if one or more members have a valuable claim based on that communication. Implement additional checks with external advisers for high-risk communications.

7. Check employer communications too

Statements by the employer that overlap with members’ pensions are a high-risk area (eg where an employer’s voluntary redundancy package is inconsistent with the scheme’s early retirement rules). Implement processes to check that employer communications are consistent with the scheme.

8. Keep records

Maintaining a central record of communications from both employers and trustees to members should save time and cost. Having a record of related communications can help you deal with a claim based on a communication taken out of context (eg a single benefit statement).

9. Confirm oral communications in writing

Ensure all oral communications with members are recorded, including eg a discussion with a pensions manager or a member of the HR team, or a call to a helpline. In some circumstances, sending written confirmation to the member is advisable.

10. Control communications channels

Ensure that pensions information is only provided by authorised individuals who have received appropriate training. Liaise with contacts such as HR team members and pensions managers to ensure that they are kept up-to-date.