Along with the consultation on the Financial Advice Market Review, the Treasury sneaked out another consultation this week on publicly funded financial guidance.
The term “Public financial guidance” has the kind of resonance offered by “public convenience” – it is not something likely to attract much more than toilet humour.
At present it comes in three forms
- The Pension Advisory service – offering guidance (not the provision of a definitive course of action)
- The Money Advice service – offering advice on what to do when you have debt (and a lot else). MAS also runs the website for Pension Wise
- Pension Wise which offers the guarantee of Guidance either from TPAS, or face to face from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Pensions and Debt may be the two sides of the coin but they are as different as heads and tails. Debt needs clear instructions if it is not to overwhelm, pensions are accumulated over years and result from clear strategic decisions taken over time.
Throwing MAS and TPAS into a box called Public Financial Guidance does neither any favours.
MAS does not have the skills and knowledge to do pensions and the same can be said about TPAS and debt. Debt is a terrible problem not just to individuals and families but to productivity. Without debt management , there can be no saving so TPAS is dependent on MAS doing its job if it is to provide a service to all.
MAS and Pension Wise are well funded- principally through levies on the financial services industry, TPAS is funded 50/50 by the Treasury and DWP. There will always be a temptation to dump the costs of TPAS on the financial services industry by rolling it into MAS. This is not a good reason to merge the differing services.
Dependent as TPAS is on MAS (at least to keep savers solvent) and helpful as debt advice may be to Pension Wise (many small pots being cashed to pay off debt), TPAS is without doubt the first pillar for the public looking for pensions guidance.
Talking to Michelle Cracknell, TPAS’ CEO yesterday, I was struck by the range of enquiries it is taking – it received nearly 700 calls on Monday, the majority about the voluntary purchase of class 3 national insurance. TPAS helps people with problems with transfers, with dispute resolution, it even runs an auto-enrolment helpline (through Pension PlayPen)!
When I spoke with Harriet Baldwin earlier in the month, it was clear that she considers that the 1.5m hits on the Pension Wise website a ringing endorsement not just for Pension Wise but for the MAS’ digital strategy. I am not so sure. In the same period http://www.henrytapper.com has had 150,000 hits and I am not making any claims to be influencing the way Britain’s pensions cash!
The vast majority of the meaningful interractions with the public using Pension Wise have been on the phone or via web-services through TPAS. My understanding is that usage of face to face through CAB has been minimal (primarily supporting the Government’s offer of Face to Face – an offer that has been roundly snubbed).
TPAS is Pension Wise to the vast majority of the retiring public!
TPAS needs to build its brand with the public and keep its integrity as the only totally independent port of call for those with pension issues (like most of us!).
So my message to Government , after reading its consultation document, is to ensure that Pension Wise increasingly focusses on TPAS and vice versa.
And that means building TPAS as an independent organisation and not confusing it with any other service.
Hands off TPAS, long may it interract with CAB and MAS but as a self sustaining independent agency doing good works for us.