How can we “engage” with pensions we know nothing about?

It looks like we will be spending yet another year getting ready. Meanwhile consumer frustration mounts.

News on the delivery of the pensions dashboard is not good. The vibes I am getting from the PLSA and others is that the period of testing to ensure that data is delivered accurately (dashboard beta) is likely to be extended meaning that the “Dashboard Availability Point”(DAP) the point where we can see all our pensions, including DC projections and , DB and State Pensions will be pushed back beyond the current estimate of the autumn of 2024.

In 2019 I laid a bet with the then CEO of MaPS that we would not be using dashboards before my e pension age in 2028 and though I am a little more confident today – I am still mightily displeased with the tardy rate of progress.

Ros Altmann is not alone, I discussed this with my friend Richard Smith who is part of the MoneyHub team piloting dashboard connectivity. We are agreed that a staged approach to release rather than the big bang of the DAP would have allowed for a more agile approach to development. Many of the early proponents of dashboards have simply walked away, tired of fruitlessly lobbying for pensions to replicate the success of open banking and get on with it.

We are where we are. Millions of people are currently approaching or passing their minimum normal retirement age (55) without organising their retirement affairs.  This chart supplied me by Janette Weir and SEI shows that though we get older and the problems of owning our pensions increase, our capacity to do anything about organising our pensions remains horribly low.

Only one in four of savers in their 50s report they have taken a lot of ownership of their pension.

Evidence from the Martin Lewis show – demand building

On his 90 minute pension special on Tuesday, Martin Lewis told us that he gets more messages about combining pension pots than any other subject. He told us that people are really concerned about the task of organising their affairs while having to deal with numerous pension companies. Worse still were the problems of people who had lost their pension pot. One man appeared on screen having found a pot worth £120,000. But he’s like the little lad pulled from the rubble after the earthquake, there is (PPI numbers ) over £26bn of unclaimed pension pots in the UK.

Finding and combining the lost and found of our pension saving careers is an endeavour that is currently “on hold” pending the arrival of the dashboard , but that cannot be right. People don’t want to wait for a big bang unveiling of their pots, they want help right now.

What’s out there?

The fellow that found his lost pension used the DWP’s pension finder service which has been around for some time now and is helpful if you have a workplace pension that the Government knows about. It doesn’t actually tell you about your pension but it gives you contact details so if you are a pension sleuth, you can track down your pot or pension.

But it’s not a dashboard, more a good database which helps.

Otherwise, you can pay for pension finding (tracing as it’s called in the trade) or you can rely on your memory and detective skills recovering your pensions CV. For many of us, this is just too hard and as we move from job we leave an ever lengthening tail of small pots in our wake.

The pension industry is supposed to be sorting out the small pots issue either through a kind of prisoner exchange, where pots are swapped between the big workplace pensions (they call it member exchange but you get the picture).


prisoner exchange in action

The DWP is encouraging work between the big master trusts but progress is slow, Nest haven’t even got round to doing bulk transfers out, People’s Pension are arguing about protected rights to normal retirement dates, nobody want to press a button that might leave it exposed to class actions.

So the problem of pot proliferation is going to get worse as the pension dashboard recedes into 2025 or beyond.

The only hope that Martin Lewis could offer us – other than the DWP database – was the service of a financial adviser. Sarah Lord womanfully stood up to be counted, though whether many advisers will join her in offering services to people with less than £50 k in pots I doubt. Many advisers I speak to have unspoken rules that only allow them to deal with new clients if they have £250k to manage unless special circumstances allow

Sarah was right to point to three things that we need to think about once we’ve found our pots and want to bring them together

  1. Check out the costs of what you are transferring to and from – generally speaking “don’t pay more”
  2. Check out if there are exit penalties for taking your money away from your provider – generally speaking – don’t pay them
  3. Check out what you are going to invest in and what you are leaving behind. Be happy with your investment decision.

All of which is good advice and for many of us , it will be enough for us to combine pots without advice. But be aware that if you start making unadvised transfers, you will be subject to a regime of red and amber flags that can be thrown by the organisations threatened with losing their money. While most of these flags are thrown with good intentions, they represent a significant barrier to transfer, even when the transfer looks a good one.

Many savers having found their pots, decided to combine them, battled with the paperwork, find they have to have an exit interview with the Money and Pensions Service before the money can move. Even then they can be waiting weeks on the transfer process.

Is engagement the answer?

Savers are asked to engage with their savings but how can they. Many do not know where they are and if they do , they struggle to get advice on combining them, if they try to combine them without advice, they are likely to get red or amber flagged and forced to meet with a Government agency to be warned of the dangers of what they are doing/

We cannot ask people to engage in such circumstances and expect much more than a quarter of savers to take ownership of their problem

Putting the consumer first.

The consumer is getting a raw deal right now. The dashboard is already four years late and not likely to be available for at least another two. Pots are not being exchanged, following members or being aggregated centrally. Advice is becoming the preserve of the mass affluent and those who wish to act without advice find barriers to transfer that often leave them frustrated/

Only 26% of us in our fifties feel we own our pensions, is it any surprise.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to How can we “engage” with pensions we know nothing about?

  1. Martin T says:

    “… subject to a regime of red and amber flags that can be thrown by the organisations threatened with losing their money. While most of these flags are thrown with good intentions…”
    You imply organisations are choosing to raise unnecessary flags. Flags are more likely to be raised unnecessarily because of the legislative requirements eg the use of overseas investment (however well regulated, protected and risk appropriate).

    Although I’ve not used them I gather claim to offer a free tracing service based on personal data, ie you don’t need to know the names of funds or employers.

  2. Martin T says:

    Also Sarah seems to have missed mentioning to check if a transfer will mean losing protected features, eg early retirement age, extra tax free cash, GAR etc or triggering penalties

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