No, Minister

It’s been a long time since I killed a man.

That was going to be the first line of my first novel. But I’ve concluded it’s not going to happen. I’ve thought about it, looked at what I could do to make it happen and, what with work and stuff. The truth is I can’t be bothered with the extra effort that’s required. I probably could make it happen, but it’s just a bit difficult at the moment, so I’m giving up. It was my first line, it was my only line.

It is probably okay for a failed wannabe novelist to take such a perspective.

It is emphatically not okay for the Government to do so.

I read Baroness Altmann’s comments on pension scams and the Government’s apparent lack of appetite to take action, as reported in Money Marketing, with a mixture of frustration and mounting indignation. This amounts to the most public manifestation of the washing of hands since Pontius Pilate passed the buck for a little local difficulty in Judaea.

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Money Marketing reports that “the Government will not legislate to stop pension scams as providers face renewed pressure to transfer savings to suspected liberation schemes following a controversial High Court ruling.”

There’s more. It directly quotes Baroness Altmann as saying “We are looking at how we protect consumers, there are lots of things going on to make sure we’re on top of it but you’ll never stop fools being parted with their money, you’ll never stop people trying to part others from their money”.

Two things.

Firstly, as far as I can see the recent High Court ruling is correct in law. We should be challenging the law rather than the ruling.

Only the Government can fix this, not trustees, not the regulators.

Secondly, it’s not about liberation any more, it’s about scammers directing members funds into, at best, high risk and inappropriate funds and at worst outright scams. The only people who benefit from this are the scammers with a high likelihood of the members losing all their money.

At Dalriada we all too often see the human cost where vulnerable people have been fleeced of their retirement savings by individuals, often the same individuals that “the system” appears powerless to prevent from just moving on to their next scam.

Our staff deal with calls from members driven to desperate and dark places as a result. This is not just about people losing their pension savings, though that would be bad enough, it’s about them losing their homes, families and sadly, on occasion, their will to carry on. It is that serious.

The Government needs to act. Ros, you are the pensions minister, you make the rules, there is much that can be done to stop these scams, as the Money Marketing article goes on to point out.

Off the top of my head the wish list would include:

  • Regulated Professional trustees;
  • Regulated Scheme administrators;
  • Additional Regulation of schemes where no employment link is required for membership;
  • A power for trustees to prevent transfers where they have reasonable concerns about the validity of the receiving scheme;
  • Banning investment in certain forms of unregulated investment from any pension vehicle other than a SiPP.

I’m sure the industry could make a few more helpful suggestions.

None of this is difficult or unachievable.

The Government’s inglorious defeat on the Sunday Shopping Bill presumably frees up some parliamentary time which could be used to address this, but it also begs the question, is it really more of a priority for this Government to ensure that Dave and Gideon can pop into Waitrose for a can of beans on a Sunday morning, than to protect vulnerable people from being scammed out of their pension savings?

I don’t know Baroness Altmann personally, and I’m sure she is a good person but, as Edmund Burke observed, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.

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Neil Copeland
Neil Copeland

A specialist in acting as a statutory independent trustee where the employer is insolvent. An adviser to trustees on all final salary pension issues