Robert Reid: The break in the Pension Wise chain


The news that the Government has allocated yet more of our money to pay for Pension Wise while refusing to publish data on the service is abject arrogance.

I so hope the inquiry recently announced by Work and Pensions committee chair Frank Field will provide the details we are entitled to. The reason I am so animated is best reflected with an example of pension freedom “working” in practice.

A client called me at the beginning of June to say she wanted all her money, which amounted to less than £30,000. She is 57. I warned her about the tax implications and pointed her in the direction of Pension Wise.

Eighteen months previously I had arranged a pension sharing order with a leading provider. After talking to Pension Wise (which, incidentally, told her everything she needed to know) she called the provider, whose first action was to tell her to see an IFA.

So she called me again. I called my contact at the provider, who accepted they had made a mistake and could deal with the request. That was the end of June.

Since that correspondence I have been feeling more and more like I am being forced into an unpaid advice position. On 7 July I had to call to chase up on the forms. They were supposed to be out within 10 working days, but I am told to wait until the end of the week.

On 13 July my client calls to tell me they have still not arrived. I call the provider again to be told it is a “learning curve” and “the first time we’ve been asked for this”. They will get back to me within 48 hours, they say.

And then what? Apparently it will take four weeks to pay the money out once they have received the forms again.

What a shambles. We were told in the press recently that 2,000 IFAs have applied for pensions exams. I hope at least that many have applied from providers.

Do not get me wrong: the concept of Pension Wise is good. However, the reality is that without a more practical management of expectations and consistent delivery from providers we will continue to see it fail to deliver what the public expect.

The guidance service is simply not being promoted in a way that is fair and not misleading. Clearly, where the break in the chain has occurred is in its promotion as advice and not as education and information.

The glib use of the term advice takes me to another pet peeve in the land where increasingly everyone is a wealth manager or financial planner, yet the number of true planners remains fairly static. I believe in the Ronseal approach: if you say you are a financial planner, deliver it.

If we tidy our house up it will be much simpler for us to bring the Government to task regarding Pension Wise. If we do not, we just give them another excuse.

Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners