Pension Wise demand slumps as appointment costs rise

Pension Wise jenga

The number of Pension Wise appointments has been steadily falling since October while the cost per session has been rising, Treasury figures reveal.

Government statistics published today show there were 3,205 appointments in December, down from a high of 6,755 in October.

When the service launched, telephone sessions – run by The Pensions Advisory Service – made up the bulk of appointments.

But Citizens Advice-run face-to-face meetings now account for 76.8 per cent of all appointments, up from just 41.7 per cent in April.

The average cost of appointments has increased to £516 per session, a rise of 4.2 per cent compared to November.

Pension Wise is set to cost the industry £35m for 2015/16 with advisers contributing £4.7m.

In the first six months of the freedoms, nearly 400,000 people accessed their pensions but just 28,320 had a Pension Wise appointment.

To date 2.03 million people have visited the service’s website.

Hargreaves Lansdown head of pensions research Tom McPhail says: “The availability of impartial guidance is an important element of the pension freedoms, Pension Wise provides an excellent service and most people who do use it have a very positive experience, however overall usage numbers are still pretty low.”

He adds: “Policymakers need to improve the take-up or to make sure suitable alternative solutions are in place. Any pension investor should be able to receive good quality guidance and support from their pension provider because this is where most of them turn to.”

A Treasury spokesman says: “As you’d expect, the service faced a lower than usual demand in the Christmas period and the seasonal closure of Citizens Advice Bureaux meant there were fewer weeks in which to deliver appointments.

“The New Year has already seen an increase in appointments and visitors to the website.”