Pension firms misleading customers, says watchdog

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Many pension providers are engaging in dodgy sales tactics and failing to tell savers about the best deals, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

As a result, it says, fewer than half of people end up with the deal that's best for them, thanks to "clear evidence of mis-selling".

According to the FCA, customers receiving so-called "wake-up packs" from pension companies are often discouraged from shopping around, for example by stressing the cost of commission fees.
This, says the FCA, is misleading, as the money saved by shopping around nearly always outweighs the extra cost.

Nor, often, are customers being told about "enhanced annuities" available from competitors which offer better deals to people with a shorter life expectancy. This is something that Aviva recently admitted to having done - although only in 250 cases.

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Some pension providers are sending out documents that don't make it clear that the customer has a guaranteed annuity rate, or that fail to let them know that they need to sign up to a deal within a particular timeframe.

Sales staff are often poorly trained, working from scripts and given financial incentives to sell as many annuities as possible. Many staff blind customers with science by using confusing and highly-technical scripts.

As a result, the FCA is recommending that providers should be forced to tell customers how their quote compares with the competition.

"The Budget reforms are a game changer for the retirement income market. People will be given more choice and many will want some support to ensure they make the right decisions for them," says Christopher Woolard, director of policy, risk and research at the FCA.

"We want to see firms improving the way they communicate with their customers. In order for the pension reforms to work and for people to have trust and confidence in the products they are buying, firms need to act now."

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Since the government announced changes to the pension rules that mean savers no longer need to buy an annuity, there's been a big decline in annuity sales. But the FCA said that for people with average-sized pension pots, they still provide good value for money - just as long as people do shop around.

"Consumers have been repeatedly let down by the pensions industry, with years wiped off people's hard-earned savings, so it's welcome to see the FCA working with the industry to clean up mistakes from the past," says Which? executive director Richard Lloyd.

"The regulator's proposals to ensure consumers have better information when they make big decisions about their income at retirement are sensible. But action is long overdue and the regulator and industry must now quickly put in place changes to ensure retirement products offer true value for money."

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Pension firms misleading customers, says watchdog
Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.

The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

Around 427,000 households in the over-70 age groups are either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency, according to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).

Its figures also show that those aged 60 or older who came to the CCCS for help last year owed an average of £22,330. Whether you are retired or not, the best way to tackle debt problems is head on.

Free counselling services from the likes of CCCS and Citizens Advice can help with budgeting and dealing with creditors.

Importantly, they can also conduct a welfare benefits check to make sure you are receiving the pension credit, housing and council tax benefits, attendance and disability living allowances you are entitled to.


The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5,864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.

The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.

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