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UK legacy schemes granted year to tackle problem of high fees

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The independent body tasked with tackling high fees levied by legacy UK defined contribution (DC) workplace pensions has told scheme providers to find their own solutions and agree remedial action by the end of next year.

Campaign group ShareAction immediately slammed the proposals as shockingly weak, and the union umbrella group TUC responded by calling for strong action from regulators and government.

The Independent Project Board (IPB) — which includes representatives of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Pensions Regulator (TPR) — made the proposals in its final report of a review into charges and benefits in legacy DC workplace pension schemes. 

The IPB was charged with the audit of old, high-charging contract and bundled trust schemes, following the now defunct Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) September 2013 study of the DC workplace pensions market. 

In its study, the OFT also agreed a series of measures with government and industry including singling out poor-value schemes, improving transparency and bolstering governance.

The IPB said it was writing to the provider of each scheme where savers were “potentially exposed to high charges”, recommending that they review their data, identify what action they could take to improve outcomes for savers and give this information to their relevant governance body — the new independent governance committees (IGCs) or trustees — by the end of June 2015.

“The IPB recommends that governance bodies agree remedial actions and an implementation plan with their provider by end December 2015 at the latest,” the ABI said.

On top of this, it said the IPB recommended the DWP and FCA jointly review the progress the industry was making with this, and report on it by the end of 2016.

Carol Sergeant, chair of the IPB, said the audit had “highlighted the importance of understanding the impact of scheme design on individual savers and has shown that there is no ‘one size fits all’ charge structure that will ensure all savers get value for money all of the time.”

The IPB said it had collected a comprehensive set of data on charges and benefits from providers. 

It found that around £900m (€1.1bn) of assets under management (AUM) in the DC schemes were “potentially exposed” to charges above 3%, although the majority — £42bn of the total £67.5bn of AUM — had charges of less than 1%.

Schemes where savers were potentially exposed to the very highest charges were more likely to have complex charge structures, the report found.

Most of the AUM with charges of more than 3% was held by savers who had pots of less than £10,000, it said, adding that more than 90% of this was held by savers that had stopped contributing.

“For such savers the impact of monthly fees can result in a very high impact of charges,” it said.

In its response to the report, ShareAction said the boards of the insurance companies — not the IGCs — should bear the responsibility to remedy the situation.

“Independent Governance Committees will only come into existence in April 2015 and their effectiveness is not yet proven,” the group said.

Catherine Howarth, chief executive of ShareAction, said: “Today’s report is shocking in terms of the scale of rip-off fees uncovered and the weakness of the action proposed in response.”

The FCA needed to show it could take decisive action to protect consumers from “the worst excesses of a financial services industry which has been ripping them off for decades,” she said.

“The government needs to set out clearly the steps pension providers need to take and what will happen to them if they fail to clean up their act,” Howarth said.

Meanwhile, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was not good enough for the industry to be given more time to put its affairs in order. 

“The worst offenders need to be named and swift measures taken to end these shocking practices,” she said.

“We need to see strong action from regulators and government to ensure that there’s no loss of public faith in the pensions system at the very time millions of people are getting their first pension savings, thanks to automatic enrolment,” O’Grady said. 

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