The confidence I have in pensions is because I know the people who are at the helm give a damn. I am lucky, I can bump into them in all kinds of ways. It is easy for me to say that the pensions in the UK are in good hands.
But if you were sitting in court 11 of the Royal Courts last week, you might have a different impression. The “members” (victims) of the various ARK arrangements will be forced to repay whatever monies they have received by way of loans. If they do not , they face bankruptcy proceedings. They will then have to find the money to pay punitive tax bills for having taken the loans and for transferring their money into arrangements which clearly were unauthorised. What little money remains in these arrangements will be diminished by sanctions from HMRC which will means the victims may well end up paying more in tax than they transferred out of their UK pension schemes.
If you want to read the whole grisly history, here is an excellent account courtesy of The Times.
The victims I spoke with transferred from the BBC, Royal Mail and similar schemes. They are as far removed from tax-arbitrage as you will find. They are the ghastly legacy of ARK.
Among the people who weren’t in Court 11 this week were the people who set up ARK and those who sold it to people who had little confidence in pensions. These villains are still at large, some still trading using the same firms as lured the victims to ARK.
For the victims, there is little reason to have confidence in a system which punishes them a second time for their gullibility and allows their tormentors to live the good life in Spain/Malta/Gibralter/Dubai etc.
Help of the helpless
Until last week, the victims’ only contact with the pension professionals that form my world was through their new trustees – Dalriada.
Dalriada were appointed by the Pensions Regulator to take over the maintenance of ARK and act as trustees when the original vilains were exposed. Dalriada had to take one of the ARK members to court to have a determination on what to do. The dignity with which that member acted will live in my mind. But dignity cannot change the momentum of the law, the defendant lost and monies will be recovered.
But last week , in the midst of a heat-wave, the CEO of the Pensions Regulator came up to London from Brighton for a meeting with the victims and listened. She did not offer to intervene, but she heard and she saw and she promised to do what could be done to ease the pain that is to come. This was noble and proper and right. She did not need to do this, she did it to
“connect with the people we are charged with protecting and those who seek to help them, hear their stories and learn a bit about how they feel”.
In freedom’s name
The scammers are still at it. They have moved from occupational schemes to QROPS and are now moving from QROPS to SIPPS but the underlying strategy is the same.
That strategy is to destabilise people’s confidence in UK pensions to create confidence in their hopeless investment scams. A favoured tactic is to take the words of those in the pension establishment and use them to justify their actions. Careless talk costs lives.
They know they can use the concept of pension freedom to blind their victims as to what is going on. You can do much mischief in the name of freedom.
Who stands for pensions?
The victims of the ARK case were joined in court by victims of other scams, the commonality was financial loss and the likelihood of further persecution through the courts and by HMRC.
Dalriada stood for pensions, but they were taking on their own members as part of the process.
Standing behind the ARK victims was Angie Brooks, a former tax-adviser , a brave woman who is making a meagre living fighting their corner. And there is Lesley Titcomb listening.
There are people who care about the ARK victims other than Angie. Their voices were heard last week at the Great British Pension Debate, but they are little heard. Darren Cooke- who campaigned for a ban on UK pension scam cold-calling , has seen his work washed-up as part of the snap-election. Politics before pensions.
What traction these people got with the previous pension minister has been lost as it’s all change at the DWP.
Other than Dalriada and one or two tPR appointees, the entire pension establishment has ignored what has been going on in Court 11 of the Royal Courts of Justice this week.
We are all fiduciaries
We are doing the victims a dis-service. We are doing ourselves a dis-service too. If we claim to be “pension expert” then we need to guard the good name of pensions. That means sticking up for the way occupational pension schemes work, sticking up for its trustees and for the safeguards it provides – especially the PPF.
It means sticking up for contract based plans, for best practice and for the work of their IGCs and GAAs. If we do not promote the values of the UK pension system, then we must take some share in the blame for money being shipped off to Malta/Gibralter/Dubai and Spain to be invested in car-parks and store-pods and hotels in Cape Verde.
The point of pensions is to make people comfortable in their later years. The people who fall victim to ARK and other scams are having their later years blighted by the actions of those who scammed them.
If you speak with the victims, you do not hear anger, infact you hear guilt. They feel hapless, foolish and – as a result of last week’s judgement they may even feel they have acted criminally. They are not criminals, for whatever gullibility they showed, they have paid a price.
Now they are left on their own , friendless and bereft of sympathy. Dalriada is their only point of contact and it is constrained to act against them by the process of the law.
It is time that we held out our hands – as Lesley Titcomb did last week. These people were our members, our clients, they live next door to us. It is our job to restore some confidence in pensions, at the very least by protecting, listening and finding out a bit about how they feel.