View more on these topics

Correspondent&#39s week

Monday is jobs&#39 day. By that, I mean that the day has been set aside in my diary as time to discuss, commission and edit features and news articles to appear in the work section of Jobs & Money.

It is not personal finance although it has lots of cross-over with the money section and we often tackle money issues that send workers into a blind panic. I am thinking here of pensions.

Lunch arrives and breaks my train of thought. A meeting with an actuary, which is never quite as dull as I expect.

We chew over the Govern-ment&#39s proposals for a compensation fund and the likelihood that most of the 60,000 workers affected will be given the equivalent of their occupational pension from the Treasury&#39s coffers.

Some of the stories are tragic – people forced to join their company scheme as a condition of employment, only to find that all the money has been flushed away (or milked by the bosses as pension holidays).

The actuary emphasises that it would be unfair not to use the pension protection fund as a model, which only provides insurance up to 90 per cent. But only 90 per cent will look pretty good to former employees of steel-maker ASW which, in some cases, was looking at annuities worth 14 per cent of the pension they expected.

Later in the week, the same actuary phoned to ask if I had noticed that Lawrence Churchill of NatWest Life and Zurich fame had turned up as the new chairman of the pension protection fund. No, I hadn&#39t. What&#39s the deal, I ask. Oh, really, two days a week for £80,000. That is more than the new head of the Inland Revenue and Customs will be paid. David Varney of MM02 will pocket a mere £130,000. He rejected £250,000 to muffle the cries of fat-cattery.

So Lawrence has landed on his feet. Is he a fat cat? My vote says yes. And his pension? I don&#39t suppose he is facing a crisis on that front either.

Tuesday and Wednesday involve talks with tax credit victims who suffer at the hands of the Inland Revenue – single mothers mainly, who found themselves to be overpaid last year – through no fault of their own – and now suffer from a clawback clause in the tax credit contract.

Tax is one of my main interests. It&#39s that old journalistic maxim – follow the money – that draws me into debates about who has got the money and how do they keep hold of it. Financial advisers obviously play their part. But it is usually tax accountants and lawyers who are involved in stretching the law to breaking point. They are also richer than IFAs and buy better lunches, making them much better contacts all round.

The Revenue does not always play it straight and can get heavy handed with taxpayers when they think their victim is Mr Moneybags and not the lowly struggling employee I know them to be.

One long-running case involves a film stagehand who was picked out of the crowd and bankrupted after he refused to pay ludicrous sums of unpaid tax invented by his local inspector. For 10 years, he has been fighting to get his house back to no avail. A former tax inspector meets me to discuss the case and gives some important pointers.

Thursday and Friday bring the week full circle. Pensions again and the compensation fund is announced. Frantic calls with MPs, trade unions, business leaders and pensioner groups fills in many of the gaps left by the Minister of State&#39s announcement.

Actuaries point out that very little money is on the table, given how much pensions cost these days. Bus-iness leaders are shocked at the minister&#39s comment that he might come after them for some cash if the £400m he is committed to spending (over 20 years) proves to be inadequate. More final-salary scheme closures they say if they are forced to cough up more.

One of the points raised centres on the possibility of compensation for other groups. Immediately, the Equitable Life campaigners are on the blower demanding that compensation should include them.

I think to myself, if the minister thought for a mom-ent that they might vote Labour, Equitable victims might stand a chance. Steel workers vote Labour, Equit-able Life victims vote…? Who knows. But if they do vote Labour, there won&#39t be many and Labour needs to buy as many votes as it can at the moment. The £20m a year deal must seem cheap at the price.

Phillip Inman is deputy editor of Jobs & Money at The Guardian •”I&#39m the Gordon Ramsay of PR.” – Former MM news editor turned Aegon PR Adrian Cammidge reveals that on occasion he finds it hard to keep his temper.

Recommended

Employer shift to DB schemes gathers pace

The number of defined-benefit pension schemes closed or restricted to new staff has doubled in the past two years, according to JP Morgan Fleming. The JP Morgan Fleming annual defined-contribution survey reinforces the increasing trend for companies to move away from DB to definedcontribution schemes, with 60 per cent of respondents from the top 350 […]

Marr and Dornan take lead roles as Johnston leaves

Aegon&#39s decision to bring its IFA businesses together to form Origen heralds significant changes for the management of the five brands. Advisory & Brokerage chief executive Gareth Marr is becoming chief executive of the newly formed company and Aegon UK Distribution managing director Peter Dornan, who has overseen the purchase of the five IFA businesses […]

Automated valuations could cut life office phone calls by 40%

Delivering automated valuations could lead to life and pension providers cutting the volume of inbound phone calls by an average of 40 per cent by the end of 2005, according to research. The research, carried out by the Financial Technology Research Centre on behalf of Advisor Forum, shows that delivering information on the value of […]

Lockyer and Achilles quit Inter-Alliance

Two executive directors have resigned from Inter-Alliance in the aftermath of the collapsed merger negotiations between the national IFA and Berkeley Berry Birch. Distribution director Phil Lockyer and technology director Mike Achilles, Inter-Alliance&#39s longest-serving executive board member, left by mutual agreement last week. It is believed their departure was prompted by the composition of the […]

Newsletter

News and expert analysis straight to your inbox

Sign up

Comments

    Leave a comment