For years I have been trying to get pensions research, and the need for pension saving generally, higher up the agenda. Now at last this month, we’ve hit the big time. Every newspaper’s talking about it.
With it, though, come the scaremongering stories, and there have been a couple of worrying examples in the past 2 weeks.
First, the weekend before auto-enrolment was launched, Ed Miliband infuriated the pensions industry by launching an “all out attack on rip-off pension charges”.
Yet again… the finance industry, taking up to 50% of the value of our pensions – all part of the same lot that caused the financial crisis, right? Stamp it out.
Apparently providers were charging members a massive “4 or 5%” of their pension fund every year in fees.
Except – our research for DWP – which has been quoted and Tweeted several times by more informed industry commentators – has shown that these comments just don’t hold true for most people.
DWP asked us to conduct an industry-wide assessment of pension scheme charges. With the co-operation of 1,200 employers and the pensions industry, we showed that average charges were in fact between 0.71% and 0.95% per year, depending on the type of pension. Fewer than 1 in 10 schemes had a charge over 1%.
Then, this Thursday, the Pensions Institute published a largely excellent report, using some impressive modelling to illustrate the damaging effect of high charges in some old schemes that were sold to employers in the 1990s.
But then they decided to base their headline finding on the sweeping assertion that “millions” of members could now be auto-enrolled into these “toxic” schemes, potentially leading to “a mis-selling scandal on an unprecedented scale”.
I’ve interviewed over a hundred employers of all sizes about this, and I’ve never seen any evidence that employers may behave in this bizarre way.
So how do they get to the “millions” figure?
Unfortunately it gives no research source for this.
Anyway, too late, the headline is now AUTO-ENROLMENT THREAT TO MILLIONS OF WORKERS.
Admittedly both the BBC and Guardian pointed out that our own report for DWP contradicted this, but you have to consider the effect the headlines have.
My aim here is certainly not to defend the pensions industry, but I worry that the more ill-informed comments designed to attract headlines could do damage if people decide that it’s not worth investing in a pension.
Watch this space…