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Another report but still no end to Equitable strife

In January this year, former Appeal Court judge Sir John Chadwick accepted the Government’s request to act as independent adviser in relation to the Equitable Life ex-gratia payment scheme.

The Government was desperate to fill this role. After all, it had been savaged by Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham in July 2008 as having been in large measure responsible for what happened at Equitable Life.

Ms Abraham pointed the finger of blame at the now defunct Department of Trade and Industry – which was responsible for supervising Equitable Life until the end of 1997 – the Treasury, which then took over supervision, and the Financial Services Authority, which took day-to-day responsibility for regulating insurance in 1999. The Government Actuary’s Department, which provides actuarial services to Government departments, was also criticised.

Clearly, faced with the need to respond to such damning criticism, the Government felt the need to do something.

Last week, Sir John Chadwick published an interim report in which he suggested that any help given to victims should be based on how much they would have received if they had invested elsewhere.

The proposal, published seven months after his initial appointment, is that policyholders’ relative loss should be worked out by studying the potential outcome of policies with similar but alternative pension providersSadly, the report does not quite manage to reach any conclusion as to precisely which Equitable investors might be considered the “hardest hit” – the central premise behind the Government’s decision to appoint him.

“It would be premature to address those matters in advance of an assessment, at least in principle, of the extent of relative losses suffered by different classes of policyholder,” the 33-page report says. Thankfully, we are promised yet another report some time in October.

Fielding Parliamentary questions as to why, more than 12 months after the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report, not a penny of compensation has been paid out, Treasury Chief Secretary Liam Byrne told MPs querying the long delays that it was “perfectly proper for us to reflect” on what Ann Abraham had said – as if it had not known of its conclusions many months before it was even published last year.

The minister replied: “To ensure that the maximum possible help is delivered to those who are in the hardest and most difficult financial position, it is vital to understand who has lost what.”

So there we have it. Despite appearances to the contrary, the Government has not spent the last eight or nine years trying to avoid having to offer redress to policyholders, including setting up inquiries with remits that avoided the issue of regulatory culpability for what happened at Equitable Life.

Meanwhile, up to 15 Equitable Life policyholders are dying every day, without receiving any compensation. In the time it took me to write this column, another five policyholders have passed away.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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