Since publishing this article , LGIM has made a statement on the closure of the L&G helplines – you can read the statement here
I was particularly pleased to see the Pensions Regulator’s guidance on administration. Pensions are, as far as most people are concerned, about being paid a wage in retirement. The pension administrator is most important at a time like this, although administration does not come into the regulatory perimetre, protecting member’s interests does.
But the question remains, who is responsible if things go wrong? If administrators see standards falling as they lose people to illness and productivity to home-working does the buck stop with them?
The same can be said for the IGCs and GAAs who from today have responsibility not just for workplace saving but for the payment of those savings back. The FCA’s PS19/30 gives the IGCs and GAAs responsibility for ensuring value for money from the investment pathways that were due to be in place by August (though this deadline may be slipping).
While trustees of DC pensions (especially the authorised master trusts) do not – yet – need to offer such options, there is a clear obligation in the title “pension trustee” to make sure money can find its way back to the individual saver as requested. This may be via a third party (which offers all the options under pension freedoms) or it may be directly.
In short, the payment of claims on our pension savings – for whatever reason – are a matter of supreme importance to pension provision.
I am therefore shocked that one of our major pension providers, Legal and General, has closed its member helplines so that we can no longer call our provider in emergency.
I am sorry to see that Aegon have also adopted this position
This is in contrast to others. This is Royal London’s web promis
Phoenix and Standard Life are also keeping their lines open (though they are trying to preserve capacity for the vulnerable. This is posted on their websites.
Our priority is to ensure we provide a telephony service to our more vulnerable customers and therefore if your need is not essential, we would appreciate it if you would contact us via the online enquiry form.
Scottish Widows put out this statement on their contact page
Aviva are also taking calls , making this statement on their Coronavirus faqs
As the coronavirus outbreak continues, we’re doing all we can to support you while keeping our people safe. With fewer colleagues on hand and an unprecedented number of calls coming in, we can’t speak to as many customers as we’d like. And because we’ve had to reduce our opening hours, we’re also taking longer than usual to reply to letters and emails.
Aviva give a different answer for inbound calls to their retail platform – indeed you can read how eight other businesses are facing the challenges of the pandemic by clicking this link to some research by Citywire
There is clearly a marked difference between service levels from our major pension providers to customers needing urgent help.
Pensions are paid to people who are getting old and the old are some of the most vulnerable members of society. The old are the people who have least familiarity with online self-service and most use the telephone.
It is critically important that firms who operate member support services, whether insurers, SIPP operators or third party administrators employed by trustees – keep these telephone lines open.
This is not beyond the trustee’s or the IGC’s pay-grade, this is at the very heart of what your fiduciary duty is – you are there to protect your members and while we do not expect you to answer these calls yourselves, we do expect you ensure that somebody does.
Beyond (or under) your pay-grade?
This is not something that can wait a few weeks till the next Trustee or IGC meeting, it is something that should be reviewed today (Monday April 6th).
Member support is not above the trustee’s pay-grade, nor under it for that matter. The closure of telephone helplines is an immediate issue for the IGCs and Trustees of the L&G and Aegon contract-based plans and multi-employer trusts.
But how many more pension administrators are looking at these huge providers and taking them for an example?