PMS: Ombudsman’s Verdict

pmslogoFormer savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society will be interested in this report in today’s Newsletter. It’s a sad and tragic tale that has caused enormous distress to many ordinary people. There is still a considerable number of people who have not had all their savings returned to them, and quite a few congregations who have forfeited access to all of their money in order to help smaller savers in the rescue package. Only after the £175 million loan from the government has been re-paid will they be in line for reimbursement, and in the current economic climate, that seems a long way off. It will be good if steps are taken as a result of this report so that nothing like this happens again.

A STORMONT department failed to properly scrutinise the activities of the ill-fated Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) before it collapsed in the midst of the financial crisis, a watchdog has found. Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley said “maladministration” in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) meant it did not establish that the PMS was engaging in activities that it was not regulated to do. Around 10,000 people with money in the PMS were affected when it went under in 2008 after it emerged that it was not covered by a UK government guarantee for savings deposits.

The controversial issue was finally addressed in 2011 when ministers at Westminster and Stormont agreed a multimillion-pound rescue package which meant shareholders with less than £20,000 in the society got all their money back, while those with more funds invested got the majority back. When it collapsed, the PMS was not subject to regulation by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), yet it was investing in a manner that required the authorisation of the FSA.

If the society had been FSA-regulated, shareholders would have been protected by the statutory Financial Services Compensation Scheme after it was placed into administration. Mr Frawley, acting on a complaint brought on behalf of some of those caught up in the society’s fall, focused on DETI’s legal responsibility to scrutinise the activities of the PMS. He found “maladministration” in DETI’s examination of the PMS’s annual return and said a “very limited administrative check” was “wholly inadequate”.

Mr Frawley said the consequence of this was that the department failed to identify that the PMS was acting outside of its legislated activities and was working in a way that required FSA regulation. He said those failings contributed to the “injustice experienced by members of the PMS preventing them of availing of the compensation scheme”. But the ombudsman stressed that DETI’s actions were not the sole cause of the PMS’s troubles and said society members did not require additional compensation above the package agreed in 2011.

The ombudsman outlined details of the investigation in the latest Case Digest publication from his office. The digest outlines the benchmarked Principles of Good Administration which Mr Frawley tests government departments against.

“Whilst no further financial remedy was appropriate in this case, I recommended that DETI revisit the administration around its registration functions to ensure these meet the Principles of Good Administration, and inform me of all measures introduced to prevent a recurrence of this maladministration,” said Mr Frawley.

“I’m pleased to record that DETI accepted my findings and recommendations and have undertaken to address the areas of concern.”

4 Replies to “PMS: Ombudsman’s Verdict”

  1. D’ont forget Stafford that the church encouraged members of the flock to save with the P M S, and told them there was NO RISK involved.Do you honestly think people would have put their life saving in a mutual society if it had not PRESBYTERIAN in front of if it?But when the going got tough the church turned their back and went the other way,so much for PASTORAL CARE.THE people who had their money in the P M S were treated like leapers, not by the conregations but by the MINISTERS of the church. Remember it was MINISTERSwho looked down their noses during the protest outside CHURCH HOUSE who do those people think they are.

  2. I take the point of ‘nonconformist’ that people would probably not have put savings in the PMS if it had not been for the Presbyterian label and the assurances given. They will forgive me, however, if I take some exception to their comments. I took time to write to about a dozen MPs, including the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown (from whom I did get a full reply), in relation to the PMS. Granted, I might have been said to have had a vested interest – in that one of the two congregations I serve had a very large amount in the PMS. (Its proposed building work was delayed in relation to a resolution of the matter.) However, both of the congregations I serve opted to defer receiving payments (one choosing the 5 % option and the other the 10 % option) to help savers.

  3. Typical reply from a minister,during the period when some people were in dire straits this was how ministers signed of when writing in the NEWSLETTER.Talking of money which all ministers like to do,it was suggest by one minister at their AGM meeting in CHURCH HOUSE to forego their yearly bonus as a one off.Needless to say no vote was required,as we all know which GOD the majority of ministers serve.Here was a golden opportunity for the church to shine but the MINISTERS in the church could have not cared less.

  4. Nonconformist needs to remember that PCI through its central funds, congregations and individuals contributed over £2 million to the rescue package.

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