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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Government accused over pensions
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Thousands of workers have lost all or some of their pensions

The government's involvement in occupational pension losses could be investigated following a formal complaint by a top pensions expert.

Ros Altmann, who has advised the government on pensions, has submitted evidence of maladministration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman and asked for an inquiry.

Ms Altmann says key government departments and regulators misled people into believing their pensions were safe when they were not.

She wants to see the pensions of affected people restored - at a cost of around 3bn - and damages paid for the stress it has caused them.

In the last few years, tens of thousands of workers have lost their pensions when their employers went bust and their schemes were wound up.

BBC RADIO 4's MONEY BOX
The programme was broadcast on Saturday, 18 September, 2004 at 1204 BST.

Speaking to the BBC's Money Box programme, Ms Altmann said some of these losses could have been avoided.

And she revealed how the government and regulators ignored key evidence that pensions were at risk, continuing instead to reassure people their money was safe.

She explained how the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) put out leaflets telling people their pensions were "protected by a number of laws" and that "the regulator can act to look after you quickly".

The result of the consultation was that they decided to ignore the advice of the actuaries
Ros Altmann
The Financial Services Authority also sent information to scheme members telling them their final salary pensions were guaranteed, "mentioning no circumstances in which they might not be guaranteed".

And the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority "sent information to trustees which told them that if their scheme was fully funded on the government's minimum funding requirements (MFR)... there was enough money in the scheme to pay pensions if the scheme wound up".

Ms Altmann told the programme none of these statements were true.

'Careless'

Over the years, she said, the protections that were in place began to disappear. For example, the government relaxed the minimum funding requirement, allowing companies to put less money into schemes.

And crucially, she says, In 1999 and 2000:

"The Institute of Actuaries told the government 'members think they are safe and they are not. You must at least warn them'".

It is impossible to over-emphasise, the damage that this is doing to people's lives
Ros Altmann
But "they decided to ignore the advice of the actuaries. So I am saying they were careless.

"And after that, they still sent out these booklets and leaflets to people without mentioning that there might not be enough money to pay their pensions."

Should the Ombudsman find evidence of maladministration, Ms Altmann hopes affected people will have their pensions restored "to the level they would have been on wind-up".

And she told the programme, she feels people should also be compensated for the stress caused: "It is impossible to over-emphasise, the damage that this is doing to people's lives."

'Not enough'

The government has already set up a 400m Financial Assistance Scheme to help people in this situation. But Ms Altmann is adamant this is not enough:

"What this scheme is trying to do is fit a quart into a thimble. It cannot be done.

There a risk... some of the people sadly will have died before they even get any compensation
Ms Altmann
"The fear I have is that the only thing that the 400m might be able to do is be some kind of means-tested benefit system for the hardship cases."

She said the amount needed to properly compensate people is around 75m a year for about 40 years.

And she continued: "If the government refuses... some of the people sadly will have died before they even get any compensation. And they will have died in misery."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 18 September, 2004, at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 19 September, 2004 at 2102 BST



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SEE ALSO:
Minister's pensions pledge to TUC
14 Sep 04  |  Politics
Pension fund not enough
10 Jul 04  |  Moneybox
Pension rule 'could harm workers'
14 Sep 04  |  Business
'65,000' hit by pension wind-ups
30 Jun 04  |  Business


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