There is a fine line between campaigning journalism and incompetent meddling. Those whose jobs it is to stamp on malfeasance see the campaigners not as crusaders but as a menace. Those who campaign see those in authority not as allies but as blockers.
The obvious example to point to are those who pose on-line as under-age and willing to flush-out latent paedophiles. The police see their evidence as inadmissible and that they muddy waters that might -if left unstirred – allow arrests and successful prosecutions.
This blog considers the issues through the prism of the pension liberation frauds.
Did I tip Audax off or tell a tale that needed to be told?
My article,” I smell a (pension) rat– what can I do”, drew a comment from the Regulator which told me exactly what I should do. Infact I met the Regulator about it and , in the nicest possible way, I was told that I was tipping off the Audax scheme management.
Tipping off is a criminal offence, as you can see if you follow the link. It’s a vexed question for those who are promoting good practice and finding their websites being abused by sharks.
I didn’t argue the point when we met, but it occurred to me that the best way to stand on pension scams is to cut off the oxygen that lets them breathe, to strangle them at birth.
Should we take the law into our own hands or should we trust our professional body to do this work and not meddle?
The question I posed in my blog was “what can I do?”.
A straight question got a straight answer.
Here is Andrew Warwick-Thompson’s answer as posted to my blog and on Linked In.
From; Andrew Warwick-Thompson executive director responsible for the regulator’s work to disrupt pension scams:
I welcome the industry’s enthusiasm for combating scams, which blight people’s lives, and read with interest your recent blog (What can you do when you’re 99% sure there’s a scam?).
Where the industry has suspicions, please tell us. If you think something is a scam it’s important in the first instance to flag this up to Action Fraud http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/
Alternatively, people who have concerns can also ‘whistleblow’ to TPR – http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/individuals/reporting-a-concern.aspx
And we do act on evidence supplied to us. We’ve used our powers to appoint independent trustee to more than 100 scam schemes and to apply to the courts to freeze assets in 20 cases.
As importantly, HMRC now carries out upfront checks, making it more difficult to set up a scam scheme in the first place. Tackling scams in this way, at source, is vital.
One of the most important things we can all do, though, is provide members with information to protect themselves from falling for scams in the first place. The regulator updated its ‘scorpion’ material in March – to prepare for the introduction of new pension flexibilities, and we’re going to be taking part in a further nationwide, multi-agency campaign in July – http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/pension-scams.aspx
Members should all receive our scorpion material from their scheme or provider when they request transfers – and we’d like the industry to send it out with annual statements to members too.
I don’t want to see any more victims but, sadly, there is no single agency that can foil scams alone, and no silver bullet for the problem (a ban on pension transfers is clearly not desirable for public policy reasons).
We all have our bit to do. By Government, industry, regulators and law enforcement pulling together with a combination of education, disruption and enforcement, we can make life very uncomfortable for the scammers – and limit the numbers of people who are hoodwinked by their dodgy marketing techniques and sales patter.
Are we keeping whistle-blowers in the loop?
But for us to continue to trust those institutions, we need the two-way interaction that we got from Andrew. It is only fair that whistle-blowers are kept in the loop – updated on the outcomes of investigations they initiated and acknowledged at the point when they deliver intelligence.
I reported my concerns to ActionFraud using the link Andrew mentions. That was two weeks ago, I have received no acknowledgement from Action Fraud on this occasion or on previous occasions when I sent them information. This is not encouraging.
While the Pension Regulator’s website is informative, there is no button on it that someone can press to bring a matter to the Pension Regulator’s attention.
Had I not written the article I did, I would have had no feedback from the authorities that the concerns I had raised with ActionFraud were being looked into. This exclusion is precisely the frustration that my friend was referring to.
“We all have our bit to do” , but if we don’t feel part of the process, it is hardly surprising that many regard this as an “us and them” conversation.
Is this the end of tale-telling?
It certainly is not – public offices like tPR are accountable to their customers. While I agree they should be trusted to do the work they were set up without interference, that is not the same as saying they are above scrutiny.
As I have mentioned before – if you take the APE out of Tapper, you get tPR.
Andrew Warwick-Thompson’s CV shows him moving from one magic circle firm to another, a pillar of society, but the poor fellow is collared with having me as an old school mate. He shares my educational DNA – much as he deplores my childish pranks.
I can quite understand him seeing me as a madman in Napier House and a school chum in the pub down the road. I am the Jekyll to his Hyde(or is it the other way round?).
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Hilary Salt , my colleague, argues that professionals (including civil servants) should be allowed to do their job, without the interference of self-appointed experts, who meddle to no good effect. (Listen to minutes 11 to 20 of the podcast).
For all those trying to stop pension scams, the temptation to tip-off has to be resisted.
We have a system in place to deal with the criminality behind the headlines and we cannot all be policemen.
Andrew is right, Hilary is right, we have to respect the institutions we have put in place and work with them.
Like Hilary, I want to be both disturbing the status quo and part of it. Andrew would argue I can’t have it both ways.
Hilary want to campaign for a better NHS/pension system/teaching profession and she uses the power of ideas to influence the debate. But she is excluded from some circles of power because she is no longer within the magic circle of actuarial firms who are on the Government’s procurement list.
For firms such as us, the frustration is that our voice is often drowned out. The frustration of the tPR’s enforcement team is that our voice is heard too loudly!
Respect and accountability are two sides to the same coin and our frustration is amplified by those who do not have access to those who call the shots.
“Nice school tie- what about the rest of us?”
A question I’d be asking if reading (not writing) this!
I have anonymised this message I received last night from a friend of mine who lives in Eastern Europe and works as an independent adviser to
I was in London this week with a fellow campaigner, meeting with (a firm of reputable pension Trustees- trying to sort out this bloody pension reciprocation mess. We also met the FCA who are struggling to keep up with all this unregulated activity.
Two of the trustees mentioned your ” rat ” blog. They agree with all of this. They are seeing some appalling messes that they are trying to sort out.
The public know little of Operation Bloom/Scorpion and I am somewhat critical of the Pension Regulator, who believes the systems he has in place are effective.
It goes on to speak of how excluded he (and those work with him) feel from the authorities. He mentions he has no way to talk to the Pension Minister.
But Ros Altmann demonstrates that those who have the patience and the empathy to work with those who are within the magic circle of power, can be most effective.
I have no doubt Ros Altmann is as keen to cut off the oxygen supply to the fraudsters as my friend but this is not a case of shouting louder – it is a case of working smarter.
Let’s keep the dialogue going in that constructive manner.