Pensions Ombudsman Paul Kenny has described as "disgraceful" instances of excessive charges and commission levied on pension products.
Addressing a workshop at the Annual Conference of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, Mr Kenny cited instances where up to 45% of contributions paid into a scheme by members was taken out as commission.
He said that in general, management charges placed a proportionately higher burden on smaller schemes because they did not benefit from economies of scale.
However, he warned that some charges were not even visible, never mind fair.
The Ombudsman cited a case where a member complained that 45% of all new money was being taken in commission by the employer, which was a financial services regulated company.
Since then the employer company has changed hands and the board of the new owner has refunded the money.
He described this situation as disgraceful, adding that it was not just immoral but ought to be illegal - if it is not already so.
Mr Kenny also cited a case where an accountant had set up a pension policy for a client, who became concerned that commission appeared to have been paid out of the fund.
The Ombudsman discovered that while accountancy regulation bars accountants from receiving commission on financial products, the commission had been paid to a financial services company owned by the accountant's wife.
He said that in that instance all he could do was report the matter to the supervisory authorities, as he did not have jurisdiction over accountants.
The Ombudsman said one of the most insidious problems was the monthly maintenance charge attached to a lot of policies.
In many cases, the monthly charge is deducted not only while the product is being actively managed but even where members have left employment and frozen their benefits.
He said the monthly maintenance charge may be funded by cashing in units in the pension fund, resulting in less value in the pension fund at retirement.
He said there was no incentive for an intermediary to switch a client to a more efficient policy if the one he set up for the client 20 years previously continued to pay a better commission rate than anything the intermediary would get today.
He said there was no doubt that if clients invest in products and do not follow up and monitor them it could cost them money.