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Rock steady but pensioners exposed

Pensions consultant Ros Altmann had lots to say this week about Northern Rock and the state of the UK pensions sector.

Altmann says the Government’s treatment of the victims who lost their pensions after believing they were guaranteed is unacceptable in light of the guarantees it offered to Northern Rock savers.

She says: “The unlimited bail out of Northern Rock savers is, of course, welcome news to those individuals affected, but it also surely shows that this Government’s treatment of the victims who lost their pensions after believing that their money was completely safe and protected by law, because that is what the Government actually repeatedly told them, is unacceptable.”

MyCompanyPension.co.uk director Mike Jones agrees saying the Government is sending out mixed messages by bailing out Northern Rock but not offering guarantees to these pensioners.

He says: “Employees were mislead by successive Governments into believing their pensions were guaranteed when they were not. What is so different with savers that the Government steps in with an unlimited guarantee?”

Meanwhile, those pensioners who lost millions of pounds when their schemes collapsed will be baring all in their annual “Stripped of our Pensions” demonstration at the Labour Party Conference next week.

In other news, Altmann and The Pensions Report editor Malcolm Small say the UK pensions sector is no longer fit for purpose and is in urgent need of a radical overhaul.

Small says this year’s Pensions Report shows consumer confidence in pensions is worsening as ever-increasing numbers of savers pile money into buy-to-let and Isas as an alternative to pensions.

Small says: “I am increasingly convinced that the UK pension sector is no longer fit for purpose. It does not work anymore. There are two aspects of the pension system that consumers do not like. They do not like having to buy an annuity and they hate not having access to the money until normal retirement date. Until we reform pensions, we are not going to get that engagement from consumers.”

Just Retirement is engaging IFAs in its campaign for better annuities and 2,600 have now signed up including the chief executives of Sesame, SimplyBiz, Bankhall and Lighthouse.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of key aspects of the annuity market and to better equip IFAs to advise customers in this area.

Just Retirement will be setting up an annuity bureau as part of the campaign and IFAs who sign up will have access to this.

And finally, Rowanmoor believes it has found a way to revive the beleaguered pension term assurance product.

Director David Seaton says the firm is working with a life office to develop a product that would be allowed under the revised PTA rules following the axing of tax relief on individual PTA policies in the Budget.

Seaton says: “The wording in the Budget paper said personal contributions to a term assurance policy cannot get tax relief so trustees and employers could still contribute to schemes on behalf of the employee and get tax relief as long as it is not a personal contribution.”

But the Treasury has other ideas about such an approach.

A Treasury spokesman says: “The Government reserves the right to take action in the future if it were to become evident that employers are changing benefit arrangements for staff in order to enable employees to retain tax relief on their personal life insurance.”

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