A quick internet search reveals the large number of firms looking to lure investors with the prospect of accessing their pension early.
The adverts are less forthcoming about the huge fees levied and the likelihood of an unauthorised payment charge of 55 per cent of the investor’s pot for breaching HM Revenue & Customs rules.
Money Marketing first raised concerns about “pensions-unlocking” in early 2011 while the High Court last year ruled certain schemes were illegal.
The Pensions Regulator, the FSA and HMRC joined forces last February to warn of the dangers of pension liberation, with around £200m estimated to have been transferred to such schemes by that date.
Last year’s regulatory battle cry appears to have had little effect with The Pensions Regulator chief executive Bill Galvin telling the BBC that around £400m has now passed through illegal pension liberation schemes.
Not before time, it looks like regulators and the Government have realised the need to up their game.
A new crackdown announced this week involving Action Fraud, alongside the usual regulatory bodies, will see providers and administrators asked to include a two-page warning notice on “pension predators” in the information packs of those requesting a transfer.
There are a wide range of firms operating liberation schemes, from those who “technically operate within the law,” to borrow a worrying term from The Pensions Regulator, to the “outright illegal”.
TPR has published a checklist of warning signs for administrators and trustees and has publicly endorsed firms blocking transfers where they have concerns. A sharper eye from trustees or providers being used as a conduit to pensions liberation should significantly reduce the chances of more losses.
The suggestion that some trustees are still concerned rules prevent them from rejecting “dodgy” transfers must be addressed by authorities.
The best way to deal with rip-off pension liberation is strong regulatory action against individuals and firms, both to shut them down and act as an example to others.
TPR is currently working on 21 cases potentially affecting tens of thousands of investors, as well as a number of publicised actions to freeze assets and replace trustees.
However, such work can be complex, drawn out and often involves offshore assets which are difficult to trace. Alongside the long arm of the regulators, all those involved in pension transfers need to be sure they are not also part of the problem.