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JOHANNESBURG - The Office of the Pension Funds Adjudicator (OPFA) has reported a 22.41% reduction in new complaints for the 2016/17 financial year.

The report said the period was a busy year for the OPFA with an average of 625 complaints received each month.

It said the OPFA had, however, managed to settle the complaints and handed down determinations within six months as a result of streamlined systems that it had put in place.

Adjudicator Muvhango Lukhaimane said the office dealt with 1717 cases carried over from the 2015/16 financial year and 7501 new ones.

Lukhaimane attributed the reduction in complaint to the OPFA coming down heavily on tracing agents.

“During (the) 2015/16 (financial year), the OPFA decided to exclude incomplete complaints lodged with the office by tracing agents that were charging mostly former members of retirement funds in the hope that there would be unclaimed benefits for them,” said Lukhaimane.

“The OPFA regarded this as a misleading exercise and the tracing agents involved were warned to desist from this practice or face prosecution for carrying on businesses under false pretence as the complaints lodged in this manner mostly had insufficient information for the OPFA to investigate further.

"Thus complaints lodged by tracing agents dwindled.”

Lukhaimane said increased communication about the existence of the OPFA and its mandate also assisted in eliminating unscrupulous practices among tracing agents.

She said 3202 were received via e-mail, 1089 through the post office, 1252 via facsimile, 73 through the OPFA website and 1885 were walk-ins.

She said this illustrated that the investment in technology was increasingly making the office accessible.

Gauteng continued to lead with the number of complaints followed by KwaZulu-Natal.

The North West and Northern Cape recorded the least complaints.

Lukhaimane said 7138 complaints were finalised during the year in review, compared with 8461 in the previous year - representing a 15.6percent reduction.

She said 3309 determinations were handed down, 1466 matters settled, with 2079 being deemed out of the jurisdiction of the OPFA.

Lukhaimane added the rapid turnaround times in finalising complaints would improve in the next financial year as the OPFA’s investigative processes improved.

“The biggest stumbling block remains the fact that over 80percent of responses from retirement funds are only received between two and three months of the request being made,” she said.

“A case in point was the response lodged on behalf of the Municipal Employees Pension Fund that led to the OPFA issuing a determination requesting that the registrar looked into the suitability of the fund’s [rincipal officer to hold office.

“Such pronouncements are regrettable.

"They are, however, forced upon the OPFA by the sheer disdain with which retirement fund members are treated.” Lukhaimane said the change of administrators at the Private Security Sector Provident Fund from Absa consultants and actuaries to SALT Employee Benefits also caused significant delays.