This week, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) began its examination of the recently published Annual Reports for the Department of Labour & Pensions, calling Amy Wolliston, the Deputy Director of the Department for Labour and Pensions, as its first witness, so they could get a better understanding of why the annual reports were only being made available now.
MLA Chris Saunders said that the fact that the reports were only being made available now made it very difficult for people to make a decision as to whether they should change pension providers.
Ms Wolliston said that the constant amendments to the Pensions Law, coupled with changes in Ministers and Chief Officers, made it difficult for her department to prepare the annual reports on a timely basis.
With the last annual report being published in 2008 during the financial crisis, Mr Saunders underscored that the Pensions Law had been put in place for the benefit of employees and that they had a right to know how their pension plans were performing.
“Not one single report of people’s hard-earned money was made public since that time,” he said.
Ms Wolliston countered that pension members were able to speak with their pension provider with regard to their own pension plan’s performance and they were also able to attend their pension plan provider’s AGMs and ask questions then.
Mr Saunders was not convinced and went on to say that when there were 14 pension providers, 12 of which were making money and two were not, then someone needed to take a look and see why the two were not making money. He said that there was a “constant belief” that people’s pensions would be worth less than the contributions they had made, when they eventually start to draw on their pensions.
“If you’ve had people’s money for 20 years and you cannot make money, then there is a very slim probability you’ll make money in 40 years,” he said.
Mr Saunders said there needed to be a culture shift with more information being made available to help people make an informed decision as to whether to move their money or not. However, he conceded that the Department of Labour & Pensions was understaffed and that more money was needed to help the Department police the industry better.
But he said that the $2 billion of people’s hard-earned money was a lot of money and pension providers needed to be held accountable for their actions as a result. He also criticised pension providers for charging a $150 processing fee on top of their usual fees for people taking money out of their pensions since the latest 2020 amendments kicked in, permitting emergency pension withdrawals in times of Covid-19 hardship.
“The truth of the fact is that we have people that are hell bent on taking as much money from people’s pocket without doing the work,” he said.
He charged Ms Wolliston’s Department with the task of policing such people, who he said “were hell bent on putting their hands in peoples’ pockets, nickel and diming for every cent they can have before people can take their money out.”
This week PAC are also calling representatives from the pension providers to look at this and other issues.
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