Shake-up of bodies offering free pensions guidance planned

The government plans to restructure the statutory financial guidance providers

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A shake-up of bodies offering free pensions guidance and money management tips is being planned, to enable consumers to get more effective help.

The Government plans to restructure statutory financial guidance providers the Money Advice Service (MAS), the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise, to ensure that consumers can access help to make effective financial decisions.

Pension Wise was set up alongside the retirement freedoms introduced in 2015, to help people approaching retirement decide what to do with their cash.

The Pensions Advisory Service also offers free and impartial pensions guidance, while the MAS, which offers free, impartial money tips, was set up by government in 2010 in response to a review which estimated that 19 million people in the UK would benefit from generic financial help.

The new model, set to come into place in 2018 under the Public Financial Guidance Review, will direct more funding to the front line and focus support on areas of greatest consumer need, Budget documents said.

It will include a new "one stop shop" pensions guidance body, to make sure that consumers can get all their pensions questions answered in one place, at all stages of their lives. Those involved in the restructure will consider whether people need prompts at various life stages, such as having a baby or buying their first home, for example.

Meanwhile, a new, slimmed-down money guidance body charged with identifying gaps in the financial guidance market and commissioning providers to fill these gaps will ensure that consumers can access the debt advice and money guidance they need.

The MAS, which is funded by a levy on the financial services industry, has played a role in helping people who face problem debt get the help they need, and helping consumers understand financial services and make better decisions, with various money management tools also available on its website.

But it has come under fire for duplicating work already being provided in the private and charitable sectors and not sufficiently getting to those who need its help the most.

Inquiries by the Treasury Select Committee and the National Audit Office (NAO) have raised questions about the value for money and effectiveness of the Service's consumer finance education role.

The MAS previously spent £18 million on a publicity drive including TV, radio and print media, building brand recognition through its ''What does MA think?'' campaign.

But a report by the NAO said that while this raised awareness and prompted a 400% increase in visits to the MAS website, the service had not sufficiently reached out to those who needed its advice the most.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: "The scale of the need for free debt advice is significant, and exceeds what is currently available. Today's announcement is an opportunity to address this gap."

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