One of the UK’s leading pension experts Margaret Snowden, has raised concerns with the government’s new pension advice service, Citizens Advice, will not be properly staffed by the launch date of 6 April.
Speaking on Radio 4ís programme Money box, Ms Snowden said: “This is so important. If people who don’t understand pensions and don’t understand much more than the people they are speaking to, that’s going to be so apparent and it’s going to blow the service.”
Citizenís Advice have responded to these accusations by confirming it will be ìup and runningî on the intended launch date. Furthermore, their chief executive, Gillian Guy has argued that the institution did intend to employ ìpension expertsî and that there has been a ìfundamental difference in the interpretation of what this service is. Itís quite clearly been defined as guidance and not advice and itís not regulated advice.î
The scheme is the result of Chancellor George Osborneís intention to offer anyone aged 55 and over, who were originally in line for defined contribution pensions, the ability to acquire their pension as a cash lump sum whilst also not obliged to purchase an annuity.
Last week, Citizens Advice declared that 44 of its total 316 offices in England and Wales would provide customers with face-face guidance according to the Pension Wise scheme, and that each office were be staffed with between three and seven people.
Furthermore, Citizens Advice have said that once the recruitment process had been completed the Treasury will oversee the training and evaluation of the staff and they would begin working in 10 weeks. Ms Snowden has argued that three yearsí experience in the pension industry and a qualification must be the minimum requirement for the employees that will be giving the advice.
The Pensions Advisory Service, the body tasked with offering telephone guidance to customers, said that when recruiting they looked for people with five yearsí experience in pensions as well as a qualification.
A former chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, Malcom McLean, has commented on the situation: ìIt is a concern that there is an inconsistency between [the] Citizens Advice Bureau and [the] Pensions Advisory Service. It looks like Citizens Advice Bureau are envisaging having basic type of guidance service. This could result in a referral from the agent to a more experienced and knowledgeable caseworker if the agents canít fully answer any queries they may get.î
Citizens Advice referred to the fact that the finishing touches were still being made on their customer advice policy but did admit that it would be necessary for consumers to book another appointment if they were unable to get answers to their question in the initial guidance sessions.
It was explained: ìThe way were currently operate, a client has a gateway assessment and if we are not able to resolve their issue there and then the client gets referred to a caseworker.î
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