Pension Wise is delivering double the number of appointments to pension savers in some regions of the UK than in others, a freedom of information request submitted to the Money and Pensions Service (Maps) reveals.
The new regional figures revealed by the Maps to Just Group suggest that that defined contribution (DC) pension savers in 2019-20 were about twice as likely to take a session in Scotland, the West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber compared to those in Northern Ireland, London, or the North East.
Just Group said the figures provide more evidence of the low levels of savers using this service, which is a key plank of consumer protection against scams and poor financial choices.
Just Group communications director Stephen Lowe said: "We estimate that in the area of highest usage, fewer than one in 33 DC pension savers eligible for a free guidance appointment take it up each year. In some areas it is more like one in 100."
"The figures, surprisingly, also seem to suggest that in areas where a higher proportion of the population has a DC pension, usage of Pension Wise is lower than the average - for example in areas such as the South East, the East of England and London."
* The table compares the number of Pension Wise appointments in each region (source: Maps FoI 2021) with **estimates for DC pension ownership among savers aged 50-65 in each region (source: FCA Financial Lives & ONS population stats) to assess usage of Pension Wise among the key 50-65 age group.
Lowe said the overall numbers are worrying because pension savers who have made use of the free, independent and impartial guidance offered by the government-backed service Pension Wise, are more confident than non-users about their ability to avoid scams and make good pension choices.
"The government has affirmed its desire to see use of Pension Wise become ‘the norm' for everyone who is thinking of accessing their DC pensions," said Lowe. "These new figures illustrate there is still a long way to go and use of Pension Wise is still very much the exception than the norm."
He said the ‘softly-softly' efforts to safeguard DC savers' outcomes are in sharp contrast to those in the defined benefit (DB) transfer market where most scheme members must take regulated financial advice and the government has recently taken action by banning contingent charging for that advice.
"For every DB transfer there are about 13 DC pensions accessed for the first time by people who need to understand their options and make informed choices about how to use their retirement funds. While DB pots may be larger, DC savings are still valuable to individuals and may make the difference between struggling for income on the State Pension and achieving an acceptable standard of living in retirement."
Stephen Lowe added that concerns about scams and poor advice had led to rules being tightened in the DB market and that government and regulators now needed to anticipate emerging problems in the DC market, particularly among vulnerable and less financially confident pension savers.
"We risk a two-tier system if we do not start to level up the DC safeguards towards the more stringent standards that exist for DB members. DC savers are entitled to free, impartial and independent guidance but too many don't know about it or don't understand how it can help them. The pensions framework needs to lead people right to it rather than relying on signposting and hoping they find their own way there."
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) has urged the government to tackle social care reform and to support alternative structures, such as collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes, to rebalance the risks facing individuals.
The former restructuring advisory and employer covenant business of KPMG has rebranded and launched as Interpath Advisory.
The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) has welcomed the government’s intention to extend the scope of the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
This week’s top stories included the FRC issuing a £65,000 penalty and severe reprimand against Richard Jones over previous advice to Guinness Peat Group, and news of Emma Douglas’ departure from LGIM.
The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee has voted unanimously to hold its key interest rate at 0.1%, with the central bank now forecasting a stronger outlook for GDP growth and inflation.