The pensions industry is ‘on the verge of a customer service disaster’ according to Toby Strauss, chief executive of Scottish Widows, one of Britain’s biggest insurers. He was explaining his regret over recent ‘unacceptable’ service levels at the company – but commented that other pension providers are also struggling.
Mr Strauss blames the ‘pension freedoms’ announced last year for creating an unprecedented number of calls to the company, leaving staff and systems at ‘breaking point’.
From April, new laws mean savers will no longer be tied into buying an annuity and can take as much as they want, when they want, from their private pension pots in the form of cash lump sums. Good news for the hard-working senior consultant but challenging for the profits of giant insurance groups having to set aside money to fund staff training and computer upgrades.
It is fair to say that in recent years the industry has jumped through many hoops. Now Mr Strauss has pleaded with the government to introduce a moratorium on new pension laws. That’s unlikely to happen…
As we hurtle towards manifesto season, the first of the policy ‘leaks’ announced a call for pensions tax relief for higher earners to be scrapped and replaced with a single 33 per cent rate to boost savings among lower earners.
Pensions minister Steve Webb said that abolishing relief for those who pay tax at higher rates of 40 and 45 per cent should be a key reform for the next parliament. Labour has also promised to cut pension tax relief for those earning £150,000 from 45 per cent to 20 per cent to fund a job creation scheme.
Interestingly, Mr Webb has also proposed removing the ‘lifetime allowance’ which limits tax-free pension savings to £1.25m. This is turn would impact on the myriad of ‘pension protection’ products that have been launched in the last few years to overcome the affects of the lifetime allowance.
While the rollercoaster of change is set to continue for the industry, savers should not be unduly concerned. The advice is simple: build a strong, carefully-considered portfolio that can roll with the punches.