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Religious disorder

Until recently I had been intrigued by these Alpha Course bumper stickers. It was only when I spotted a similar poster outside a church that I made the connection.

When I was younger and a member of the Boys’ Brigade, no one could have predicted that my gold badge at scripture knowledge could help in my role as a pension adviser.

The recent revelation that alternatively secured pensions are only meant for one religious group would be funny if it were not so serious.

The carrier of this news, one Ed Balls, could see no issue with his “clarification”. Just how we the advisers check on a client’s religion is not something that he went into. As a complete aside, Balls is married to Yvette Cooper, who is in charge of home information packs. What must the chat have been like over the dinner table or maybe they did not eat, given their regular changes of mind. Perhaps they just went without. If only we could go without them.

But I digress. Just how exactly are professional advisers meant to work with these continuing run of reversals in policy? First, we have pension simplification.

But wait, that will mess it up for some of their pals and even us so let’s have some transitional measures. Residential property including in specie contributions, no problem, drawdown after 75, bring it on.

Then, over-exuberant pension marketers frighten them, the residential property option is lost. We finally determine the IHT position before and after ASP, only to find that we need to change religion to have that option. I could be kind and say that they missed some of the ramifications in their earlier proposals but did they?

Increasingly, I believe that they did not have a clue and let the industry work out the weak points for them. We must demand a more honest Budget presentation in the future. This game of announcing nothing and then slipping it out in press releases is unacceptable. The Chancellor must also start to take soundings from far bigger focus groups and double-check any data submitted by manage-ment consultants.

If we ever have sight of the papers pre the removal of tax relief on dividends for pension funds, I am convinced that the level of research will be at best described as pathetic and, worse still, it was probably two years out of date. The man helping leading that change? Balls again.

Let us reflect for a moment. Money laundering takes more and more time and retroactive legislation since pre-owned assets and more recently the changes for trusts means that we have more caveats than advice in reports. As to checking someone’s religion, how will that work? Better still, perhaps we should be converting a client’s religion to that of the Plymouth Brethren. Could financial planners start to put the Alpha project in the shade?

Just how the public will react to all this heaven alone knows (no pun intended). When residential property was OK as an investment, the interest in pensions soared. The removal of 75 made many people very happy. Now that both have gone, just how we keep the public interested in pensions is a major challenge.

You could not make this up. If you pitched the story of pension simplification to a film producer, he would tell you it was too far-fetched. The only calming thought is that it will not be long until John Prescott is in charge for the holiday of our beloved PM.

Next week, I am off to form my own religion which cannot accept annuities or ASPs. Our messiah tells us that 100 per cent tax-free cash is the only acceptable benefit from a pension plan. I wonder if Ed will take my point?

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