A FAIR DEAL ON PENSIONS FOR CONSUMERS


As the SNP Spokesperson for Consumer Affairs, it is clear to me that an increased focus on fair treatment of consumers in the financial sector is long overdue. I was pleased raise these concerns in a debate in Westminster last week as the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill made its way through the House of Commons.

People ought to have confidence that their financial transactions, be they with banks or pensions providers, will be dealt with reasonably and transparently. Consumer confidence has taken a real battering.

There is no doubt that financial matters can be confusing at the best of times, and the area of pensions is particularly complex. Regrettably, this means it has not always been subject to the level of parliamentary scrutiny it warrants, and the loser in this sorry situation is always the customer. I aim to change that and ensure consumer rights are put front and centre in pensions and across the board.

The private pension marketplace is unhelpfully opaque. Pensions, though important, are over-complicated, creating inertia and inaction, as people avoid the issue, feeling uncertain about what is best for them, and unclear where to turn for reliable advice. Too often, that has a profound effect on pension outcomes, as the decisions consumers make during their working lives can have serious financial consequences for their future, impacting upon mental wellbeing as well as financial health.

At Westminster, I am working to ensure that those drawing pensions, and those thinking about the future are not left out in the cold. I recently pressed for a legal duty of care to be placed upon financial institutions to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are central to financial policy development.

Consumers deserve to have access to the best independent advice, and need to be confident that, whatever decisions people make about their pensions, they are properly and independently informed.

Much is rightly made of the importance of young people taking a proactive interest in providing for their future. The status quo where pension provision, regulation and advice is so confusing is not sustainable. The less young people feel they can rely on advice, the fewer will make provision for their future, storing up problems.

The people most in need of independent financial and pension advice are often the hardest to reach. Indeed, many people seeking pensions advice give up because choosing between the range of alternatives is so challenging. Many of us can expect to live longer, and we need to be careful we are not living longer in poverty.

It has become far more common to access pensions early. This raises questions about how best to protect those potentially vulnerable older people, when faced with difficult choices. There is a good deal more to be done to ensure the availability and crucially the uptake of high quality, free independent pension advice.

Scam calls are a huge issue and a cause of real worry. A staggering 10.9 million people received unsolicited contact about pensions since April 2015. I continue to press the UK Government to deliver on their promise to adopt into legislation my Bill on unsolicited marketing calls. Only by dealing with scam calls and cold calling by prosecuting directors of companies who make them will we truly protect consumers.

It is vital that this blight on consumers is dealt with, and I am impatient at the delays with regards to my Bill. People in North Ayrshire and Arran, and across the country, deserve to have protection of their pension rights and rights as consumers protected.

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