Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 16:59 UK

'Comparison needed' for Equitable

Equitable Life sign
The Equitable saga has been long-running and controversial

Returns from similar pension company investments may be used when working out compensation levels for Equitable Life policyholders, a report says.

Sir John Chadwick is designing a scheme to give voluntary payments to the "hardest hit" of Equitable's investors.

He said that their relative loss would be worked out by studying the potential outcome of policies with similar but alternative pension providers.

Hundreds of thousands of people lost savings after the firm's near-collapse.

Ombudsman findings

Equitable Life, one of the UK's largest private pension providers, came close to collapse nine years ago after being ordered by the High Court to fulfil financial promises which it could not afford.

January 1999: Equitable tries to abandon a guaranteed payment it can no longer afford
July 2000: The House of Lords says Equitable must honour its original commitments, forcing the company to put itself up for sale
December 2000: Equitable Life closes to new business after failing to find a buyer
March 2004: Lord Penrose's report says the society was the "author of its own misfortune"
July 2008: The Parliamentary Ombudsman says regulators failed to protect policyholders and calls for a compensation fund

The subsequent saga saw more than a million policyholders suffer large cuts to the value of either their prospective or current pensions, as the society struggled to stay solvent.

The government has since said it is planning limited discretionary payments to those investors who suffered the most.

In doing so, it failed to accept in full the Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham's recommendation for a compensation scheme for all the Equitable's policyholders who lost money.

She found that various government departments had been guilty of maladministration, a conclusion the government does not accept in its entirety.


Instead, the government asked former Appeal Court judge Sir John to work out a scheme that would compensate the hardest hit.

In an interim report, published on Tuesday, he suggested a "flexible approach" to calculating compensation relatively quickly.

"The flexible approach has the potential to cover all those who were policyholders during the period affected by the maladministration which the government has accepted," the report said.

"It will measure the relative losses suffered in respect of the accepted cases of maladministration by reference to the position that policyholders would have been in if all their investments in Equitable Life products had been made in a comparator."

He said this would produce a "fairer overall result".

However, the interim report does not come to a conclusion about which people could be considered the "hardest hit" of Equitable's investors.

"It would be premature to address those matters in advance of an assessment, at least in principle, of the extent of relative losses suffered by different classes of policyholder," the report said.

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