Firms have 'no excuse' for blocking pensions cash

Press Association
Key Speakers At 2013 Insurance Summit
Key Speakers At 2013 Insurance Summit

Firms denying savers access to their pensions have been criticised, with the minister in charge warning they have "no excuse".

The actions of some providers were described as "disappointing" by pensions minister Ros Altmann amid claims people are facing difficulties and sometimes even being charged to get access to their own cash.

An investigation by the Daily Mail has shown savers subjected to delays in getting to their money, being asked to pay hundreds for financial advice and some being required to change schemes, at a cost, before they can access their funds.

Calculate your pension income options

Under government reforms which came into force in April, savers aged 55 or over are no longer required to use their pension pot to buy retirement annuities, which give them a guaranteed income for life.

Instead, they are able to cash their pot in or withdraw the money in slices, like withdrawing funds from a bank account.

Speaking earlier this week David Cameron said he will keep "a careful eye" on companies' treatment of pension savers, following complaints that savers were being denied the new freedoms.

Yesterday Labour's Lord McFall of Alcluith, a former chairman of the Treasury select committee, said there were "rip-offs taking place daily" and called for people to be able to see exactly what they were being charged.

The Daily Mail spoke to savers who were being asked to sign letters saying they had sought financial advice, and paying up to £1,000 for the privilege, while others said they had to wait 90 days to move their money to newer schemes so they could access it.

Calculate your pension income options

Ms Altmann and Harriett Baldwin, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, criticised some firms for offering too few options to savers.

Writing in the Daily Mail they said: "It's great that many pension providers and schemes have risen to the challenge and are offering their customers flexibility.

"However, it is disappointing that some firms are lagging behind and some providers have chosen to focus their efforts on far too narrow a range of options.

"No matter which pension provider you saved with, you should be able to use your pension how you want to.

"The industry should be embracing this exciting opportunity and developing innovative and competitive products that work for you – and we will work closely with them to help them achieve this."

They added that new legislation was brought in to ensure pension schemes can offer the full range of flexibilities if they want to.

"This means that there is no excuse for firms to claim that their rules mean you can't access your money," they said.

It is up to companies to decide whether they want to offer the full range of new freedoms under the reforms.

Ms Altman and Ms Baldwin advised people to visit the Government's advice service Pension Wise for free guidance on options and possible charges, warning savers to think carefully before making any decisions.

"If you're considering accessing your pension, make sure you take the time to find out what the options are, get help and support, and make the decision that is right for you and your family. After all, this could well be a once-in-a-lifetime decision which will affect what you have to live on for the rest of your life."

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