Labour ministers have attacked Chancellor George Osborne for describing pensions guidance as “advice” in his Budget speech.
In March Osborne said everyone would be entitled to “free, impartial face-to-face advice” about their retirement options from April 2015. However, the Treasury later downgraded the pledge to guidance.
In a debate on the Finance Bill in the House of Commons yesterday, Labour ministers added their criticism.
Shadow Treasury financial secretary Cathy Jamieson said: “There is a world of difference between advice and guidance in technical terms and in terms of legality. The Government need to deal with that. It is important that Government use language consistently and do not inadvertently mislead people about what they are going to get.”
Shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont added: “The fact is that on the day of the Budget the Chancellor said that there would be guaranteed advice, but that turned out not to be the case. It is now guidance, which is a very different thing.”
Because the debate was on the tax changes to pensions rather than the guidance guarantee, Treasury exchequer secretary David Gauke refused to be drawn on the matter. He said the Government would publish its response to the consultation on guidance “shortly”.
He added: “I agree that it is vital that we get the guidance right. Now is not the occasion for the Government to set out the details of how this will operate, but there will come a point when we will do that. There will be plenty of opportunity for the House to debate those matters.”
In his evidence session to the TSC, Osborne said he chose to use the term advice because he had “to communicate in English so people watching knew what he meant”. But MPs say his speech “could have been better phrased”.