Unite is warning members to be aware of dodgy financial advisers targeting Port Talbot steelworkers under rules introduced in 2015 that allow pensions to be taken out as a lump sum.
The pension scheme of 130,000 Tata steelworkers is undergoing a huge restructure, resulting in current and former staff at the Port Talbot plant being bombarded with nuisance calls, spam mail and internet advertising campaigns from unscrupulous pension advisers offering murky deals.
An investigation by Echelon Wealthcare discovered workers being offered unrealistic returns of 10 per cent a year on released pension cash and being hit with hidden fees, with one worker reportedly being charged £20,000 to withdraw his pension.
One financial advice firm attempted to woo people with “curry and chips” nights, where advisers offered free food as they pitched investments that involve moving pension pots out of defined benefits schemes that provide guaranteed returns.
Unite Port Talbot branch secretary Mark “Pasty” Turner said, “We’ve been saying for quite a while that a vulture mentality seems to have developed. There’s a lot of different deals being offered and there doesn’t seem to be a set standard.
“Some are offering one up-front payment to look after clients, while others want management fees to oversee accounts. We have heard, but we can’t verify it, that people are being offered deals to get others to sign up.
He added, “There’s the opportunity for pensions advisers to make a lot of money very quickly and obviously, no matter what industry, where ever money is involved you’re going to have people looking to make a quick buck at the expense of others.”
Unite national officer for the steel industry Tony Brady said the union is “very concerned” about “sharp practice” around Port Talbot and warned members to think twice about who they trust with their pensions.
“We have strongly advised our members to take advice from Lighthouse, which Unite recommends, or an adviser of their choice who is independent and trustworthy,” Brady said.
“We raised this at a Labour Party steel roundtable meeting last week and told the committee of our concerns. I have also asked our senior reps for any names of advisers plying their trade around steel plants and other sites.”
The Financial Conduct Authority has begun an investigation into the behaviour of financial firms targeting Port Talbot steelworkers.
Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, described the changes to the British Steel scheme as a “honeypot for crooks”.
He said, “If I was a member… I bet I would be under a lot of pressure from outside forces about drawing my capital out.”
Steelworkers began to be targeted after Tata agreed a deal with the Pensions Regulator in August, after the company said its £15bn pension scheme could force the business to close.
Unite welcomed the agreement, which protects members’ accrued benefits but results in smaller annual increases, saying it brought months of pension uncertainty to an end.
Pension holders are now being offered the choice of entering into a new Tata run scheme or moving onto a rescue scheme under the Pension Protection Fund.
Vulture pension advisors are using the changes as an excuse to try and persuade workers to abandon financial certainty in their retirement for deals that may see them losing out.
Tata workers are not the only ones exposed to such risks. Since 2015, when legislation allowing savers to withdraw their pensions in lump sums was introduced, 220,000 people have taken a total £50bn out of defined benefit schemes.
Over the same period, pension advisers are estimated to have raked in around £715m from persuading people to forego a guaranteed retirement income.
National officer Brady said Unite advises all members to be cautious with their pensions.
He said, “I can only reiterate the need for our members to take proper independent financial advice and give any adviser they regard as dodgy and offering outlandish financial riches in retirement a very wide berth.”