MM leader: Citizens Advice is weakest link in Pension Wise chain

Natalie Holt, journalist with Money Marketing Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

Over recent months, Money Marketing has been constantly chipping away at the Treasury and the FCA for information on how Pension Wise is performing. Numerous Freedom of Information requests ranging from the expected take-up of the service to action against firms pretending to be connected to Pension Wise have been rebuffed, either because it did not suit the Government’s timetable or simply because policymakers did not want to tell us.

But this week we can finally reveal some meaningful data on whether the guidance service is up to par.

There are some encouraging nuggets in the figures, with over a third planning to seek out advice following a guidance session. But the data also raises some serious warning flags, particularly around the different outcomes experienced by savers depending on whether they use The Pensions Advisory Service or Citizens Advice.

The numbers do not look good for Citizens Advice. Not only are consumers less likely to see an adviser following a face-to-face guidance session, they are also less likely to shop around when it comes to retirement income.

The silver-lining types may suggest this is because Citizens Advice delivered such a comprehensive service that savers had no need to go elsewhere, or that retirees already knew what they wanted to do with their pension pot.

But the fact is those who go to Citizens Advice for pension guidance are more likely to seek out additional information elsewhere.

Worryingly, the data points to a pensions guidance lottery, with those going to TPAS left better informed, more likely to see an adviser, and more likely to shop around.

With a £12,000 pay gap in some cases between TPAS and Citizens Advice, and with pensions experience not insisted on by Citizens Advice, the gap between the two organisations is becoming more like a chasm.

The official party line when it comes to defending Pension Wise’s honour leaves a lot to be desired. Both Citizens Advice and the Treasury claim Pension Wise is a “real success story” and that “satisfaction remains high”.

But many consumers have nothing to benchmark guidance against. How would they know if the service they are getting can be better delivered by someone else?

One of the driving factors behind Citizens Advice being chosen as a Pension Wise delivery partner was that the Money Advice Service, a money-guzzling quango that failed to get a handle on consumer outcomes, was not up to the job. Dare I say it, there is a real risk of history repeating itself.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing. Follow her on Twitter: @Natalie_Holt_MM