Steelworkers Need Support As Pension Deadline Looms

Up and down the country, people are in need of answers

15/12/2017 17:08 GMT | Updated 18/12/2017 14:09 GMT

Steelworkers up and down the country are in need of answers.

130,000 steelworkers, current and former, are facing a December 22nd deadline to choose the future of their pensions.

They can either let their pensions slide into the Pension Protection Fund, the “lifeboat” for those whose company pension schemes have collapsed, or move into the new British Steel Pension Scheme.

For 40,000 workers, there is a third option. Legislation in 2015 meant workers from the age of 55 can withdraw their pensions to invest elsewhere or spend as they please.

So why, with days to go, have 30,000 people not made a choice?

Why have I seen hundreds of concerned constituents gathering in Ebbw Vale at the new scheme roadshow needing advice?

Because the answers to the basic questions of “what do I do” and “who do I trust to tell me what to do” are really hard to work through when you’re making probably the biggest financial decision of your life.

In South Wales, where Tata Steel have one of their two steelmaking sites, we have reports of a “feeding frenzy” as some unscrupulous businesses look to cash in amongst the confusion.

Despite the FCA saying there is “sufficient capacity”, there is a question of the financial advice industry not being robust enough to cope with these huge spikes in demand – opening the door to opportunists.

There have been real worries about situations where there is a financial incentive to encourage people to transfer their pensions, maybe even into schemes with bigger fees and more risk.

Now we hear this week at the Work and Pensions Select Committee session that hundreds of steelworkers could have received bad advice.

The Financial Conduct Authority have reached “voluntary agreements” with four companies to not take on pension business as they attempt to sort through this mess.

The director of one of the companies that has reached this agreement, Darren Reynolds of Active Wealth, failed to turn up for the Select Committee evidence session - that can’t be right.

I believe that agencies such as the FCA had a duty of care to step in sooner and protect retirees and would be retirees.

To give steelworkers the best chance possible to give the best answer to a big question.

There is a real issue around the FCA being focused on institutions and not being mindful of people like my constituents in Blaenau Gwent.

Given the huge number of steelworkers needing support and certainly on the day the feeding frenzy reports came out, the FCA should have sprung into action.

Everyone involved should have looked at every step of the process to make it as easy as possible for those affected.

We needed support helplines from day one, not stories of one steelworker who had to ring a number 207 times to even reach someone to talk to.

As it was pointed out in the Select Committee, why is it that something as simple as finding out if a company is approved by the FCA akin to an obtuse treasure hunt?

Why is it that the people have to scour through drop down menus and subsections when a postcode search for approved FCA businesses would work well?

The signposting for people who need support has been terrible. People don’t know who to turn to and it has created a situation where people are fearful of doing the wrong thing.

For instance, one of my constituents wants to reverse their decision to transfer but have been told they will be hit with a 5% exit fee.

Who do they speak with to even begin to address this situation? The Pension Advisory Service? The FCA? The Pensions Ombudsman?

The answer to this, at such an important time for these steelworkers, should be clear as day – not clear as mud.

These questions, and many others, will need to be addressed in the months to come if we are to avoid the same situation for future mass transfers.

The same worries, the same sleepless nights.

But right now, steelworkers need answers and they need them fast.