Category Archives: Select Committee
Parliament is debating the legislation for the proposed Lifetime Individual Savings Account on Monday, and will set out how it will work.
The Lisa will encourage those aged between 18 and 40 to save up to £4,000 a year with a very generous 25 per cent government monthly top-up, which they can use to buy a home in their thirties, or for savings later in life.
The aims are in line with the government’s manifesto to help people on to the housing ladder, in a familiar savings wrapper, with implementation scheduled for next April. So what’s not to like? Unfortunately, quite a lot.
The problem is that when it comes to savings, we don’t start with a blank sheet of paper. We already have a mind-boggling collection of pension and other savings products, with every recent government tempted to try to be the savings industry’s product designer.
The stakeholder pension, created under Tony Blair’s government, died a quiet death. And we should be careful of not unintentionally doing the same to the auto-enrolment scheme, implemented by the coalition government, and backed by the government-owned pension provider Nest, to ensure that every employer offers millions of employees a workplace pension. This is a noble cause. Why is that at risk?
Today, auto enrolment has 6.9m new savers signed up to a pension and another 3m more still to come. Crucially, contributions are tax free, and both government and the employer contribute too. By contrast, any savings into a Lisa come from taxed income and the employer does not contribute anything. But all of that is as nothing compared with the guaranteed Lisa incentive: 25 per cent a year, an unimaginable no-risk annual return on any asset class.
So there will inevitably be a flood of savers switching from existing Isas (especially cash Isas) and new money going into the Lisa. Better-off workers and retirees will find the spare cash to get their children and grandchildren’s savings moving.
The problem is that the lowest earners will not have enough both to save through their auto-enrolled pension (especially as their contribution level increases sharply to 4 per cent by 2019), and to have taxed income to spare for a Lisa.
We are bound to see a rapid increase of opt-outs from auto enrolment, especially in 2019, and people instead opening Lisas. Employers will not mind this as they will not have to pay their (2019) contribution of 3 per cent into their workers’ pension pots.
The likely result is that building long-term savings through auto enrolment, with government, employer and employee all contributing, will be severely set back. The Lisa may prevent auto enrolment from being the growing source of later-life income that it could be. That, in turn, could have implications for future social security pressures.
Does this matter? Some believe that no one understands pensions, they are too inflexible and everyone prefers Isas (which you can cash in tax free). Use that brand to mobilise house buying and savings, they say, and don’t worry about which product the money goes into: it is the savings generated that matter.
A growing proportion of people neither own a home nor have a pension.
And I might, broadly agree, except that taxpayers are paying for the Lisa top-ups (estimated at £850m by 2021). So who will benefit the most?
The government has not given us any breakdown but my instinct is that the biggest beneficiaries will be existing savers who are transferring assets, and families of higher-rate earners — the opposite of those intended to benefit from auto enrolment.
Finding £4,000 out of taxed income will not be easy for those on the average wage for my Gloucester constituency of about £24,000: my constituents will not be able to save nearly that much. So the Lisa, while available to all, risks principally benefiting the few.
Moreover, the Lisa is criticised by many in the savings industry, and ignores the concerns of the previous two pension ministers, the work and pensions select committee, the ABI and other professional bodies. There is an FCA consultation that ends only a few weeks before it is supposed to be introduced next April.
This is not the best backdrop to the introduction of a new savings product with such generous incentives. I am convinced that piecemeal Treasury product design is not the answer and a wider consensus on savings is needed. And because we have such a feeble opposition, deeply entangled in civil war, it is for Conservatives to call for this.
It is not too late for the chancellor to pause and reconsider the whole savings landscape. I recommend he establish a savings commission. Led by an independent figure, this body should work out how we can best stimulate savings for homes and retirement, without adding unnecessarily to the range of offerings, creating competing government products or giving generous tax breaks to the few. The remit should include current tax breaks for pensions and savings instruments. Let it be formed quickly and give recommendations within six months.
The Lisa is the product of the last Treasury’s habit of tinkering with product design for savings, its dislike of pensions, its preference for tax up front (and so Isas) and its inability to work effectively with the Department of Work and Pensions on this issue. The new chancellor and work and pensions secretary have the chance to change all that, and provide solutions better suited for the many.
Pausing the Lisa would be a good start.
Our new Prime Minister has promised to get ‘tough on irresponsible behaviour in big business’. The report from our joint Select Committee on the collapse of BHS offers a case study of what can go wrong at a company almost 90 years old and why she is right that government must react.
After over 20 years in international business, I thought little would surprise me. But what emerged from the evidence of the long, and ultimately unhappy, saga of BHS under Sir Philip Green’s stewardship was worse than I expected.
We learnt, above all else, that BHS was run like a medieval fiefdom, with absolute control by the Boss, shaky governance, and only lip service responsibility to its defined benefit (DB) pension fund.
The story of the pension scheme in fact mirrors the business, which lurched from profitability to loss (1999-2006), then financial crisis and now administration. The pension scheme went from (£43m +) surplus to (£350m +) deficit and was then steered to the care home for Defined Benefit schemes – the Pension Protection Fund where benefits are reduced. For almost ten years previously Philip Green had said at various times, and to different people, that he would sort out the pension fund. But when push came to shove he never did so 20,000 pensioners may get less deferred salary as a result. Why?
Green had no need to do anything originally, when the business was enjoying a contribution holiday, and only focused when the scheme went into deficit. He considered insurance buyout solutions, and then a wider solution (Project Thor), which might have worked if he had given enough information to the Pensions Regulator (TPR). But as the Chairman of the Scheme Trustees noted, Sir Philip objected to TPR ‘trawling through ten years of Bullshit’. His proposal for staggered injections over 23 years stretched belief: and he then rushed through the sale of the company to a totally inexperienced retailer, without telling either the Chairman of the Trustees or TPR. The evidence suggests Green was as keen to be shed of the pension scheme as the business, and that Dominic Chappell was steam rollered into agreeing the terms, through greed and naivety.
There is a wider issue here – of what would prevent other owners of businesses with DB schemes from selling their businesses in a hurry, regardless of their obligations. That’s why I strongly recommend it be mandatory for TPR to report on the health of the pension scheme for any potential buyer of a business with a DB scheme, just as a mortgage lender requires a valuation of a property: then everyone knows exactly what the situation is.
As it is, we are left with Philip Green’s word that he will see the pensioners right. After hearing that Green told Dominic Chappell, eventual buyer of BHS, that he would get the company ‘pension free’, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on this happening. Philip Green’s reputation hangs on a thread. I hope he seizes the moment to do the right thing and inject enough capital into the scheme for it to continue outside the PPF, without members taking a haircut. It would be the best result of a long inquiry into one of Britain’s less glorious corporate episodes.
You can read the full report here.
PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP says SMEs will need incentives to hire people with disabilities if we are to hit targets
Richard Graham (MP for Gloucester) has drawn attention to the opportunities for the government in developing incentives for employers (and especially SMEs) taking on employees with disabilities.
“If you look at our experience with SMEs in the last Parliament, when we were trying to quickly expand the number of apprenticeships being offered by businesses, the process was made much simpler by introducing an NI free measure for up to two apprentices,” noted the MP, “and if we want both to meet our target of attracting a million people with disabilities into work between 2015-2020, as well as generate 3 million apprentices – then we need more incentives for those with disabilities.”
Richard’s research revealed that the US, the Netherlands and Ireland had all, in different ways, provided tax credits for employers. So in DWP questions he asked the then-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, if he would “consider extending the current exemption from employer national insurance contributions for apprentices both to additional apprentices and to full-time employees with disabilities, so that our tax system benefits employers who see the abilities as well as the disabilities of all [his] constituents.”
Stephen Crabb MP responded to the idea saying, “When it comes to closing the disability employment gap, I am absolutely clear that no options have been left off the table. We want to look at the widest possible range of solutions, including financial incentives such as our small employment offer, which will support small businesses to increase local job opportunities for disabled people.”
Richard first mentioned the idea in the Work and Pensions Select Committee during an evidence session on the disability employment gap. Mike Adams OBE, Chief Executive of the Essex Coalition of Disabled People, agreed with the idea.
Mike said: “I would fully advocate some of the initiatives that you are talking about as part of a wrap-around support to both employers as well as disabled people.”
Liz Sayce OBE, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK also spoke to the Committee, saying that employers of people with disabilities and those employees will need additional support for certain aspects of the job, including training. She agreed with Richard that a tax break to support this would be “very, very helpful…particularly with SMEs”.
In the last two years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by 365,000 and the government is committed to ensuring all disabled people have the opportunities and support that they need to get and keep a job.
Richard said, “I understand that the US, Ireland and the Netherlands use similar tax incentives to encourage businesses to employ disabled people. Apprenticeships provide important opportunities for young people so it is right that we encourage employers to hire young disabled apprentices too.”
What does Parliament do when BHS goes bankrupt after being sold to a three times bankrupt individual with no retail experience, leaving 11,000 employees without jobs and 22,000 members of the pension scheme concerned about their pensions?
We’ve got a joint Select Committee enquiry (Business and Work & Pensions), which I’ve been asked to serve on for pensions experience. Last week we interviewed, amongst others, the Chairman of the holding company (Taveta) which owned BHS. You may be surprised to hear that Chairman Lord Grabiner claims not to have been invited to the Board meeting at which Taveta agreed to sell BHS, or even receive the papers for it. Nor does he seem to have been too bothered about this.
You may conclude that Lord Grabiner’s evidence (his written statement is also on the parliamentary website) amounts to ‘nothing to do with me, gov’. Was he fulfilling the responsibilities of a company director, let alone a Chairman, as required by the Companies Act?
Watch below or see all of the questions I asked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-JXHdQd2Mw&feature=youtu.be.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I congratulate the WASPI campaign on the success of its e-petition, which has led directly to today’s debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on her speech, which made the case strongly on behalf of women born in the 1950s—she reminded us that, implausibly, she was too.
Today, we debate the WASPI e-petition and, in a sense, the consequences of it. I want to address in turn three separate parts of the e-petition: first, the changes to pensions for women born in the 1950s and the ask from the WASPI campaign; secondly, the communications to those women from the Government and in other ways, from 1995 onwards; and thirdly, the new state pension and the way in which information about that is being communicated. As I said, I will touch on each of those in turn, highlighting where I agree with the campaign and e-petition and where not.
Let me start at the heart of the WASPI e-petition. This is the third time that we have debated this issue in the House, and as we go around the course again today, I hope that we will focus as much on the facts of the ask and the consequences of that as on the understandable emotion of women born in the 1950s. By way of reassurance to those in the Chamber, let me say that that includes my wife and both my sisters.
Helen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Richard Graham: May I make a little progress before giving way to the hon. Lady?
First, I agree that the changes in the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011 will undoubtedly be difficult for women born in the 1950s. Indeed, those changes have been underway for some time and the pension age for women is already 63. But—this is a significant but, and a challenge that has to be made today—I do not accept the proposed WASPI solution, and I will explain why.
The e-petition states: “The Government must make fair transitional arrangements for all women born on or after 6th April 1951 who have unfairly borne the burden of the increase to the State Pension Age”.
The fair, transitional arrangement sought by the campaign is spelt out on the WASPI Facebook page, which reads:
“What is our ask?… put all women born in the 50s, or after 6th April 1951 and affected by the changes to the state pension age in the same financial position they would have been in had they been born on or before 5th April 1950.”
One of the key WASPI campaigners, Anne Keen, who I imagine is here today, said in her evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee, “we feel this is a very fair ask”.
Now, the impact of the ask that appears on the WASPI Facebook page has been estimated at more than £30 billion. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a little bit more clarity on that. The figure is a third more than the entire Transport budget, more than the entire budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and probably the same as—possibly more than—the entire budget for Scotland. What we are talking about today may be considered a very fair ask by some people, but others may consider it an enormous and wholly inappropriate ask.
The petition states that the WASPI campaign agrees with equalisation, but the implication of the ask on the Facebook page, and as repeated to the Women and Equalities Committee, is to unwind the 1995 Act, which was brought in specifically to bring about the equality of gender.
Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) rose—
Richard Graham: If the spokesman for the Scottish National party wishes me to give way, I am happy to do so.
Ian Blackford: We recognise that equalisation has to take place, but this is about the pace of change and the desire to ensure that mitigation can take place. We talked about the pension age being 63. As it is, somebody born in February 1954 will not retire until July 2019—two and a half years after somebody born a year earlier. That cannot be acceptable. Also, £30-odd billion is not the spending in one year; it is the spending up to 2026. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right.
Richard Graham: I am half grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The SNP’s position has always been interesting, because its Members are in the happy situation of being able to say—and, if need be, to promise—whatever they like without any danger of having to fulfil a commitment on the pension age. I notice that he did not try to commit himself to any transitional arrangement, let alone the full transitional arrangement proposed by the WASPI campaign. It is fine for hon. Members to posture in this debate, and I am in no doubt that we will see a great deal of that, but it is unkind and unfair to the WASPI campaigners for Members not to speak honestly about what they and their party would do.
Helen Jones: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way.
Mr George Howarth: On a point of order, Mr Stringer. Did I just hear the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) correctly in his accusation that some people were behaving dishonestly? Is that a parliamentary expression?
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): I did not hear the hon. Gentleman say that. I call Helen Jones to continue her intervention.
Helen Jones: The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the women protesting about the change were being emotional. That is quite often a label attached to women who exhibit behaviour different from that of a doormat. What I said to him about the injustices in this scheme was based on fact, not on emotion.
Richard Graham: I am semi-grateful for that intervention as well.
Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I am listening carefully to the debate, and I have heard a lot of warm words from the SNP and from the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), but I have not heard any solutions, let alone how those solutions may be paid for by any future Government.
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): I remind right hon. and hon. Members that interventions should be short. We are not doing very well at the moment.
Richard Graham: Thank you, Mr Stringer; I am doing my best to take interventions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) made a very reasonable point. The previous Labour pensions spokesman said that, in the four months in which he was in the role, he was “grappling with how best to work out the transitional provisions.”
I hope that we hear more about what the Labour party intends to do in practice.
One of greatest difficulties in this debate is about the word “fair”. Over the weekend, a lot of WASPI campaigners were tweeting me back and forth about various issues regarding the debate and their e-petition. One of the most interesting views came from a woman born in early 1960 who made a point about what would happen were the main WASPI campaign ask to be given—that is, if everybody born in the 1950s were backdated as if they had been born before 1950. She asked why she and her contemporaries should bear the burden on behalf of those who would effectively be given an exemption from the changes, and who were born only a few months before her.
The problem is that whenever a change is made, some will always be relatively better off and some will be relatively worse off. I strongly support women born in the 1950s—as I hope I made clear from the fact that my wife and sisters are both girls of the 1950s—but to imply that somehow they must take preference over those born a few months before or after is a different kind of potential unfairness.
The second point of the debate is all about communication. Communication is at the heart of what many of the campaigners feel is unfair about the changes made in 1995 and 2011. However, it is simply not true that nobody knew, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) claimed in the debate in the main Chamber. In 2004 the then Labour Government estimated from their research in the Department for Work and Pensions that 75% of those affected had been told. A separate study by the DWP—not yet referred to in debate, but unearthed by the pensions correspondent at the Financial Times over the weekend—demonstrated that seven out of 10 people spoken to knew about the change in the pension age. The truth is that we will never know the precise figure. We will never know exactly how many people knew, did not know, and might have been told about it but ignored it because it was all a long way in the future—20 years away.
Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing this intervention. Does he not find it strange that thousands upon thousands of women from different careers, different backgrounds and different classes are all coming together to claim exactly the same thing, which is that they were not told? The DWP has conflicting records on what letters were sent out and when, so we should be careful when addressing the point that people were told.
Richard Graham: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we can be sure that not everybody knew and that not all of those who were told took the information to heart. We can be sure that some people were not told—there is no doubt about that. The pensions correspondent at the Financial Times told me:
“I dispute the evidence given to the Committee… by Lin Phillips, that ‘There was not much in the newspapers, only maybe a little bit in the business pages.’”
The correspondent has done a detailed study that will be presented as written evidence to the Select Committee, and she went on to say that she has looked at coverage from 1993, when the changes to equalise the state pension age for men and women was first mooted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). She says that, from 1994 to 2006, there were hundreds of mentions of the state pension age in the news sections and the personal finance pages, as well as in the business pages.
Dr Philippa Whitford: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, for such a drastic change as a change in the age of retirement, women had a right to expect to receive a direct letter, in the same way as they are given a pension statement on an almost annual basis?
Richard Graham: The hon. Lady is right. There are huge lessons to be learned, and I will come on to them because both parties that were in government between 1995 and 2010—predominantly the party that is now the main Opposition party—have to be able to explain, to look at themselves and say, “Could we have done more? Could we have communicated better?” The answer has to be yes, although there is a philosophical question that remains valid today. It is for Members, and indeed for the WASPI campaign, which has offered some thoughts, to come up with ideas about how that philosophical question can be addressed, because surely there is a balance of responsibility between what the Government must do to spell out change, what the wider world, including the media, must do to communicate that change—in today’s world that includes social media—and what the individual must do to take responsibility for finding out about major things that will affect their life.
Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on introducing this debate. Those of us who have had children have received child benefit. I have received an annual statement from the DWP about my entitlement to child benefit, so it would therefore not be too difficult for people to receive annual statements on their pension entitlement in the same way. If the DWP can do it for parents, surely it can do it for those approaching retirement age.
Richard Graham: The hon. Lady is correct. Indeed, people can get a pension statement from the DWP, and half a million people have done so. Of course, an individual has to ask for that statement, rather than it being automatically sent. She raises a question about whether the DWP could do more to communicate directly, which I am sure the Minister will address.
Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Richard Graham: I will make a little progress first.
I agree with the WASPI campaign that it is clear that more should and could have been done on communication and that a lot of women have had a lot of difficulty as a result of that failure in communication. As I have said, there is still the philosophical question to address. What matters now is whether lessons have been learned by everybody involved and whether changes will be made that help people in future. So long as longevity projections continue to move upwards, the likelihood must be that the state pension age will also move upwards.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Richard Graham: Let me finish my point, and I will come back to the hon. Lady.
I believe that the Government have now accepted three major points, and it would be good to hear from the Minister that that is the case. First, there will be a review of the state pension age every five years—I believe a review is planned for 2017, which perhaps he will confirm. Secondly, whatever is decided as a result of that review, which should have cross-party consensus as far as possible, everybody concerned will be given a minimum of 10 years’ notice. That will address the most difficult point for members of the WASPI campaign, which is the shortness of the time in which they knew about the changes. Thirdly, and this is also important, the basis on which the new state pension age will be calculated is that all of us, men and women alike, should have a maximum of a third of our life on the state pension. That is important for the one fairness that has not been mentioned today, intergenerational fairness, so that those who are paying for the pensions of their elders are paying for us to spend only a third of our life as pensioners.
Several hon. Members rose—
Richard Graham: I will come to questions in a moment.
I hope the Minister will confirm all my points, because they have important consequences for everyone, not least the 10 years’ notice of any change.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Stringer. You asked us at the start of this debate to do the maths on the time needed to allow all 20 speakers to speak. I did the maths, and it was five to six minutes. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) might be having some difficulty.
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): That is not a point of order, but the point is well made.
Richard Graham: May I seek your guidance, Mr Stringer? I have tried to be as generous as I can in taking interventions.
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): You have the floor, but there are 20 people waiting to speak. When you sit down, I intend to impose a time limit.
Richard Graham: Thank you. I have got the message loud and clear, and I hope that Members will respond accordingly—[Hon. Members: “It’s you!”] I was trying to help colleagues on both sides of the Chamber who are standing up and trying to intervene.
The last point raised by the petition is on the new state pension, the way in which it has been communicated and the implied fairness, or unfairness, of it. It is time that we all recognised that the new state pension has huge benefits for many people, and particularly for women. For the first time in the history of pensions in this country, women who have spent years out of the workplace, either bringing up children or caring for their parents, will receive those years as contributions to national insurance, which will determine what their state pension is. [Interruption.] That is a revolutionary change, whether Members care to recognise it or not, and it is one that we should all support.
Secondly, the changes made to the composition of the state pension, particularly the triple lock, mean that the absolute amount of money received by people on the new state pension this April will already be £1,000 a year more than in 2010. Thirdly, it has been calculated that, in the first 10 years of the new state pension, some 650,000 women will receive £416 a year more than they would have received without the new state pension.
Mr George Howarth: On a point of order, Mr Stringer. As the hon. Gentleman moves into the 22nd minute of his speech, will he give us an indication of its likely future proportions, so that we can pace ourselves?
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): Again, that is not a point of order, but the point is made.
Catherine McKinnell: Further to that point of order, Mr Stringer. Can you guide me on whether you have any control over this issue? My concern is that it is deeply disrespectful to the many women here who are concerned about this subject.
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): Mr Graham has the floor. He has heard the points, and I intend to impose a time limit when he sits down.
Richard Graham: Thank you, Mr Stringer.
I have covered the three main points that I wanted to raise today, and it is worth recapping the implications—[Hon. Members: “No!”] I will be very brief. First, many people in this House—
Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Stringer. This debate is being held in a way somewhat alien to what we are used to in the Chamber. The Public Gallery is full, and rightly so; it is an important issue. I invite you to remind all of us that this is a meeting being held in public, not a public meeting.
Graham Stringer (in the Chair): Again, that is not a point of order, but you have made your point, Mr Hoare, and I think Mr Graham has heard it.
Richard Graham: Thank you, Mr Stringer. In conclusion, the WASPI campaign has been well put together, and the e-petition has been a great success; that is why we are all here. I congratulate WASPI. All the points made by the campaign about communication in the past will have been noted and largely accepted by almost everybody in the House.
I have emphasised the lessons to be learned, in terms of what the DWP can take from this debate for any future changes made to the state pension age and how they are communicated, but WASPI’s central ask—changing the state pension received by people born in the 1950s—is not favoured by many of the campaign’s supporters, who understand that £30 billion or more is not an appropriate ask when there are so many other good causes on which money should be spent. On that basis, I do not believe that this House should support the e-petition’s call for fair transitional arrangements, which amount to that.
“Deciding what to do with your pension pot, if you have one, can be complicated. Not enough people know you can get good guidance from Citizen Advice.”
That was Gloucester MP and Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee member Richard Graham’s view recently after reviewing the Gloucester Citizens Advice free service – part of the government’s ‘Pension Wise’ scheme.
The MP said not enough people in the city or county were aware of the service, which taxpayers are funding.
“If you’re over 55 and have a money purchase, or Defined Contribution pension, you chance a lot of new freedom about what you can do with it. But what would be best for your situation? That’s where very experienced Citizens Advice staff can help.”
Richard Graham, who also chairs Parliament’s All Party Pensions Group, encouraged constituents to ring 01905 721892 and book an appointment.
“Take advantage of this free opportunity now.”
Government reforms have given people new freedom over their pension pots. Currently anyone 55 and above, with a defined contribution pension, can decide what to do with their money.
To help people understand the flexibility they now have with their pension savings the Government launched Pension Wise to help people make informed decisions.
Face-to-face appointments with pension specialists are available through Citizens Advice, with appointments taking place at the Gloucester Citizens Advice office in Eastgate.
Pension Wise has helped people with pensions ranging from less than £1,000 to more than £1 million in the city.
One 60-year-old woman, keen to understand every aspect of her pension and the options available, said her Pension Wise appointment had been “very helpful and thorough”, continuing she “would recommend it to anyone”.
Another client described the specialist he spoke to as “very knowledgeable” and appreciated the time taken to help him with understanding his pension.
Gloucester MP Richard Graham said that, “Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s decision for the DWP to trial a sanctions warning system is good news as it should reduce the number of claimants who believe they’ve been unfairly treated.
“Effectively anyone about to be sanctioned for breaking their contract with the Jobcentre Plus will be given 14 days to explain their reasons before sanctions come into effect.
“This is a better approach and I hope that the trials are successful so this is introduced across the country.”
The city MP also welcomed further changes to the benefit system, with immediate effect, which are ‘fairer and reduce the risk of unreasonable hardship’.
The DWP has also issued new guidance to Jobcentre Plus staff to improve awareness of vulnerability, and how conditionality can be varied, accepting in principle the need to make hardship payments available from day one of a sanction.
It has also extended the definition of groups considered ‘at risk’ for hardship purposes to include those with mental health conditions and those that are homeless.
Richard said, “This is exactly what Select Committees are for: to help government implement policy as effectively and fairly as possible.”
Note: Richard was elected a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in 2010, before joining the government, and again elected in May 2015.