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ABI criticises UK government for ‘missing pieces’ in pensions reform

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The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has criticised the UK government over its readiness for the defined contribution (DC) market upheaval just six weeks before new rules come into force.

Comments from ABI director general Huw Evans come as the at-retirement market for DC savers changes from compulsory annuitisation to allowing members to access their pots at age 55 and drawdown in any manner.

The reforms are underpinned by a free guidance service for consumers to help alleviate confusion over products, and is funded by the pensions and insurance industry but managed by public sector bodies.

In a speech at the ABI’s 2015 retirement conference, Evans said the government, regulators, providers and advisers were unprepared to help customers effectively come 6 April.

He said the industry did not want to become involved in a failure “blame game” with the government but stressed it was impossible to say its policies were ready for the reforms.

“That is a statement of fact not an attribution of blame,” he said.

“The ABI and many of the providers we represent welcomed the chancellor’s Budget reforms [and] want them to succeed for customers.”

Evans said key information regarding the guidance service for consumers was missing, and that legislation of tax and drawdown was yet to be presented.

“We are also still waiting for crucial rules from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to guide providers on how they need to interact with customers,” he added.

“The government has simply not been able to deliver enough at this stage to ensure the reforms have a flying start when they go live. Critical pieces of the jigsaw are still missing and will not be in place in time.

“I see no point in a blame game and would hope this will not develop as the reforms go live, despite the pressures of the pre-election period.”

The reforms were announced in March last year by Conservative chancellor George Osborne, but clashed with several other changes coming into force for DC providers such as the 75 basis point charge cap on auto-enrolment default investment funds.

The combination of policies from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Treasury had seen many calls for some proposals to be delayed to allow the industry to play catch-up.

Influential Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, chair of the parliamentary committee for pensions policy, said the annuities policy implementation would be tight.

At the National Association of Pension Funds conference in October 2014, chairman Ruston Smith complained about the lack of detail over the reforms.

Pensions minister and Liberal Democrat Steve Webb has said delays to policy implementation would happen “over his dead body”.

Read Taha Lokhandwala’s analysis on the impact of the Budget’s pension freedom proposals on the at-retirement DC market

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