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AJ Bell survives complaint from former adviser over Sipp failures

A former adviser claiming that AJ Bell made a string of errors over his Sipp has lost his complaint at The Pensions Ombudsman.

The nature of the allegations against the Sipp provider, which have been made over a number of years, led AJ Bell to take the “unprecedented decision” to ask the client to transfer his Sipp elsewhere.

The client, referred to as Mr S in the decision, had both a Sipp and dealing account with AJ Bell with different reference numbers. In July 2016, he sent AJ Bell an £8,640 cheque instructing “pension payment £8,640 net” but quoted the reference number for the dealing account, not the Sipp.

AJ Bell asked Mr S to complete a further dealing account form while it banked the cheque and cleared the money to be recredited into the Sipp account.

By August the client complained that the Sipp had still not been credited with the money, and AJ Bell said that it would be available in the next two to three days. While Mr S did get in touch again to confirm the precise deals he wanted, he ended the telephone call before they could be executed.

On 5 August AJ Bell processed the correct Sipp contribution, but Mr S requested compensation for being unable to make any deals.

He was offered seven dealing charge-exempt trades by AJ Bell by way of apology, but declined the offer and asked the Sipp provider to only contact him by post in future.

AJ Bell asked Mr S to find another provider after he launched further complaints over gross negligence and maladministration.

Chief executive Andy Bell wrote in a letter to Mr S: “You have over the years complained about our service on more occasions than I can care to remember. Whilst I have never reached this point before with any of our customers, I have reluctantly concluded that it would be best all-round if you transferred your benefits to another provider who can service your needs as you require.”

Mr S then requested to draw down £10,500, but AJ Bell said it could not process the transaction because he had not filled in risk warnings properly and had claimed he was being advised by an AJ Bell director.

AJ Bell replied saying: “To reiterate, we are not encouraging you to remove money from your Sipp. We are insisting that you move your Sipp to another provider.”

He also tried to make additional contributions into the Sipp which were declined.

A Pensions Omubdsman adjudicator ruled that the cheque being paid to the client’s dealing and not Sipp account was partly Mr S’s fault, and that the seven free deals was sufficient to put the situation right.

The decision reads: “Having been a financial adviser, Mr S should have been aware of the Sipp terms and conditions. A transfer to another pension arrangement could have been implemented much more quickly, to draw a line under the matter for both parties, if Mr S had not refused to listen to what AJ Bell was saying.”

However, Mr S appealed this. A final decision by Pensions Ombudsman Anthony Arter released this week agrees with the earlier ruling.

He writes: “The tone of the written correspondence between the parties in 2017 shows that AJ Bell’s unprecedented decision to terminate business with Mr S was not a premature one, and in my view it was not unreasonable.

“Mr S alleged that AJ Bell was involved in various forms of criminal activity, but I have seen no evidence of that.”

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Comments

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  1. I used AJ Bell for SIPPs several years ago (before pension freedoms). I would hope that they have improved since then, but in those days when they provided SIPP services for the likes of Skandia I found them less than wonderful – and expensive too.

    I find it hard to imagine that these complaints were not entirely without merit.

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