Urgent action needed to ban pensions cold calls and stop scammers, say MPs

Worried Senior Woman Answering Telephone At Home

Urgent action is needed to ban pensions cold calls to prevent people from being conned out of their life savings, according to a committee of MPs.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee also said people should be given guidance as a default option before they access their pension pot, unless they expressly opt out.

It said it welcomed a commitment made by the Government to banning pensions cold calling, but said it should now take "urgent legislative action", through the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill.

Under the committee's proposals, an enforceable ban should be introduced by June 2018 at the latest.

A clause in the Bill would enable a ban on pensions cold calls, but it is flawed because it ties the ban to a new financial guidance body being set up, the committee said, which could delay the ban until 2020.

The committee said: "It is much more urgent than that. We recommend a new clause which would require the Government to introduce a ban by June 2018 at the latest."

Committee chairman Frank Field said pensions are "rich pickings" for scammers offering over-the-top returns or seemingly clever advice.

He said: "Every day that passes without a ban, people are being avoidably conned out of their life savings.

"There is no need to overcomplicate this: our proposal would see an enforceable ban in place by summer, closing at least one door on rafts of scammers at a stroke."

Mr Field continued: "Making guidance the default option combined with the ban on cold calling would be a simple but big step forward in consumer protection in the era of pension freedoms.

"The Government should use the Bill that has just arrived in the Commons to legislate to protect pensions now."

The committee said the risks of being conned have been heightened since the 2015 pension freedoms, which give over-55s a wider range of choices over how they use their pension pot.

It said the combination of high financial value and low saver engagement has made pensions a scammer's "perfect storm", with the committee having heard examples of investments such as diamonds, overseas property developments, forestry and film.

The scale of scamming is likely to be grossly underestimated by official reports, the committee said, and the problem of people being pushed towards "completely legal but totally inappropriate" investments which fall short of fraud needs to be tackled.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: "We take the threat of pension scams very seriously and we're already protecting savers.

"We're bringing forward legislation to ban pensions cold calling, tightening HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) rules to stop pensions scammers and fraudulent schemes, and preventing the transfer of money from occupational pension schemes into fraudulent ones."

Yvonne Braun, director of policy, long-term savings and protection, at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: "People's life-savings must not be left vulnerable to scammers and con artists.

"With mortgages already protected by a cold-calling ban it is high time pensions were given the same level of protection."

She said savers should seek "quality guidance" from Pension Wise and the Pensions Advisory Service, and advice from regulated financial advisers.

Tom Selby, a senior analyst at AJ Bell, said: "The committee is bang on the money when it comes to banning pensions cold calling.

"Introducing this vital preventative measure needs to be a priority for the Government - failing to do so leaves savers at increased risk of being conned by fraudsters."

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