How far would you be prepared to travel to receive a 45-minute guidance session outlining the basics of retirement planning?
The answer may well depend on your level of enthusiasm for all things pensions, but my guess is the man on the street’s response will be ‘not very’.
Looking through the list of 44 Citizens Advice bureaux that will be offering the Government’s at-retirement guidance service from April, it quickly becomes clear that a lot of people are going to have to travel a very long way to get the “free, impartial, face-to-face” guidance the Chancellor promised.
The service will only be offered at three bureaux across London, there are just two offering it in the whole of the north east, and a quick Google search produces a myriad of addresses that will be an hour or more away from a centre.
Residents of Southend in Essex, for example, would face an hour and 10 minute drive to Maidstone in Kent, or an hour’s drive to the East End of London if they wanted face-to-face guidance.
Given the levels of apathy among consumers, particularly when it comes to finance, you can bet that unless it is made convenient, people just won’t go.
Citizens Advice is already coming under criticism as a result, but the organisation is doing itself few favours to restore confidence that the service will be accessible to everyone as George Osborne promised.
Its press release says it will also use a number of “outreach locations” such as libraries to enable more people to access the service.
But this was buried in the release and Citizens Advice has refused to provide details on how many locations will be available and how this will work in practice.
It is also refusing to say how many staff in total it is taking on, and what hours the service will be available.
The opening hours will be crucial to capacity; if the service is only available 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, then demand will be much higher in locations such as central London as it will be easier for workers to book a session in their lunch break rather than one close to where they live.
One would hope that Citizens Advice and the Treasury have thought all this through – and perhaps they have – but the lack of detail is worrying.
Of course those who do not wish to travel to a Citizens Advice bureaux can access their guidance over the phone or online.
But given the Chancellor promised face-to-face guidance for all in his Budget speech, it is this aspect of the service which will be most crucial to its reputation.
And considering how heavily guidance is being relied upon to prevent poor consumer outcomes, the Government better hope Citizens Advice bureaux are not empty come April.
Tessa Norman is regulation reporter at Money Marketing