The Pension Funds Adjudicator is supportive of retirement fund members or their beneficiaries who have been treated unfairly, but you will get short shrift from the adjudicator if, for no good reason, you want more than you received from a retirement benefit distribution – at the expense of other beneficiaries.

A complainant who wanted more than the amount she had been allocated has been described by the adjudicator, Muvhango Lukhaimane, as “greedy”.

Ms D of Musina brought a complaint against the PSQ Wealth Retirement Annuity Fund and PSQ Life following the distribution of a death benefit after the death of Ms D’s life partner, Mr N, who was a member of the fund.

Mr N died in April 2015 and was survived by Ms D, and well as four biological children and Mr N’s mother.

A death benefit of R1 653 640 became available for distribution. The PSQ Wealth Retirement Annuity Fund allocated the benefit to beneficiaries so that Ms D received 80% of the benefit, two of the four children received 5% each, and Mr N’s mother received 10%.

Ms D was unhappy with the allocation of the death benefit, asking that the entire benefit be allocated to her.

She complained that Mr N had also been a member of the Discovery Retirement Annuity Fund, and that Mr N’s mother had received R625 632 from that fund.

She submitted that it should be taken into consideration that she was 57 years old and was nearing retirement. She said her deceased partner’s mother had six children who still supported her in various ways. She also argued that the children who had received a portion of the benefit were young and employed.

When allocating death benefits, retirement funds typically take into account the allocation of benefits from other funds in the deceased’s name, to ensure an equitable distribution.

When questioned by the adjudicator, the PSQ Wealth Retirement Annuity Fund submitted that, in allocating 80% of the death benefit to Ms D, it took note of her age and life partnership of many years with the deceased. It also took into account the allocation of 69% of R3 083 838 from the Discovery Retirement Annuity Fund to Ms D, and noted that Ms D was employed and had received various other benefits from the estate of the deceased.

In her determination, Lukhaimane noted that Ms D had not mentioned in her complaint the substantial amount (R2 127 848) she had received from the Discovery fund. “Thus, it is clear that, in respect of the current and future earning capacity, the complainant is in a far better position than [the other beneficiaries].

“This tribunal strongly condemns the conduct of Ms D, as it demonstrates the greed of some dependants,” Lukhaimane said, adding she was satisfied that the death benefit had been allocated properly to the dependants.

She dismissed the complaint.

TARDY CONDUCT

In another case, the adjudicator has again hit out at retirement funds that cite the prescription of debt as a reason for not paying benefits, and says the increase in unclaimed benefits can partly be blamed on funds that lack the expertise to identify beneficiaries.

Lukhaimane said the Registrar of Pension Funds had recently announced that there was about R10 billion of unclaimed benefits in the mining industry alone.

Referring to a case that came before her tribunal, she said for a pension fund to cite prescription when beneficiaries came forward to claim these benefits only exacerbated the problem.

Ms Y brought a complaint against the Mineworkers Provident Fund over the non-payment of a benefit following the death of her partner, who died in July 2004. The deceased was an employee of Harmony Gold and a member of the fund.

Ms Y complained that the fund had failed to allocate a portion of the benefit to her and her late partner’s minor son. She said the fund had told her that it was still investigating the existence of her partner’s other beneficiaries.

The fund raised prescription as a defence to the claim, saying it was time-barred, because the claim was lodged after three years since Ms Y’s case arose.

In her determination, Lukhaimane said the complaint was not time-barred. She said the Prescription Act provides for circumstances under which prescription is interrupted.

Lukhaimane said that, in February this year, the fund had confirmed that there was an unclaimed death benefit of R596 541 available to the deceased’s beneficiaries. She said that, in accordance with the Act, prescription is suspended by the fund’s “tacit acknowledgement of the debt”.

She said a death benefit must be distributed and paid without unreasonable delay, and that funds have 12 months following a member’s death to trace and identify potential beneficiaries.

In this case, 12 years had passed, during which the fund had failed to complete its investigation.

She ordered the fund’s trustees to complete its investigation and distribute the benefits to the beneficiaries, without any further delay. The fund was also ordered to pay a 10% in compensatory damages, bringing the total to R656 195, for its tardy conduct.

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