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Agenda item

Death Grant Policy

To receive a brief report and review the changes to the Death Grant Policy.


Andy Cunningham, Head of Pension Administration and Relations, introduced a report outlining the key contents and changes to the Death Grant Policy.


Officers explained that who could be entitled to a death benefit and how it was calculated varied depending on when a member joined the Scheme; generally speaking, for an active member it is a multiple of their salary at the point of death. For deferred members it is a multiple of their deferred salary, but this was dependant on when they left the Scheme and what their salary was. Pensioners usually received a balance of 10 years, so if they received 6 years’ worth of benefits then they would receive a death grant of 4 years to make the total to 10 years.


With regard to the Fund’s discretion itself, it was clarified that the Fund could choose to split the grant between more than one recipient and that they could decide what the split itself would be. However, three principles would be applied to that decision: firstly, around the deceased’s stated or perceived wishes. For example, has the deceased completed an expression of wish form and who have they named on it? Officers however could look at the reasonability of the named person(s) and see if this matches other documents such as a Will or marital status. Secondly, Fund officers have the responsibility to make reasonable decisions, for example; if a person names a friend on their expression of wish form without full reasoning as to why, and the deceased had young dependent children who were not financially looked after, then the Fund could use their discretion to go against the deceased’s wishes. Thirdly, Fund officers have a responsibility to act reasonably, professionally and robustly, meaning they must take reasonable efforts to gain the information needed to fully understand the circumstances of the deceased and make a decision. Whilst the Fund ultimately had discretion, any decision taken needs to be justifiable. However, officers did note that in certain situations there could be a level of subjectivity, with two officers potentially coming to different conclusions, nevertheless both of these conclusions would need to be justifiable. Officers acknowledged that this area was one that occasionally received complaints as there were situations in which you could not appease two opposing parties, however, officers were confident that the decisions made were appropriate.


One member of the Board asked for more clarity surrounding the expression of wish form and questioned what would happen if a situation arose in which the deceased’s Will contained an explicit statement of the distribution of the benefits which contradicted that made in a past expression of wish form. Officers clarified that in that specific circumstance they would investigate the order in which the declarations were made, however as the Fund ultimately have discretion then the Will didn’t necessarily have to be considered, but timings would be critical and they would fully investigate the case to gather all of the information needed to make a decision. However, officers felt that that scenario was rare as contradictions did not occur often.


Officers clarified that members were regularly encouraged to keep their expression of wish forms updated either annually as part of their annual benefit statement or when their circumstances materially changed such as a member reaching retirement.


Cllr Tony Deane, Chairman of the WPFC, raised the issue of subjectivity when coming to a conclusion as to who a death grant should be paid to and suggested the introduction of a panel system to assess each grant. Additionally, he asked officers how long it typically took for a death grant to be paid. Officers explained that all death grant cases were looked at as a matter of priority and that it was the Fund officer’s aim to make the right decision, even if that caused a delay to any payments. It was further explained that there was an escalation process that was followed dependant on the amount of the death grant, for example if a grant exceeded a certain threshold then the line manager would become involved and so on. Additionally, if two people could not agree on who the grant should be paid to then again, it would be raised to senior officers who would then investigate further to come to a decision. However, officers reiterated that these contradictory cases or complex situations were rare, and the vast majority of cases were clear cut. In response to a question, officers clarified that if a case were to be challenged, then they would undergo an internal dispute process and if that could not solve the issue then an independent advisor would be sought to make a decision. If the challenge was still being sustained after these steps, then a second stage would be initiated and would finally be submitted to the ombudsmen if the challenge persisted. 


One member of the Board noted that officers had two years to make a decision, allowing a certain level of freedom and time to ensure that the correct decision is made.


There were no suggested recommendations for changes by members of the Board.




The Board noted the contents of the policy.

Supporting documents:




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