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Pension funds unaccounted for

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Millions of pounds is unaccounted for in two pension schemes.

BBC Radio 4's You & Yours has spoken to people cold-called by Liverpool-based salesmen and persuaded to "unlock" their frozen pensions, with promises of cash upfront, and high returns.

But the BBC has heard support staff were encouraged to lie repeatedly to worried scheme members.

These sales companies are no longer trading, but former bosses deny wrongdoing.

More than five hundred people were persuaded to transfer more than £20m into the two schemes - Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme and Capita Oak.

Henley promised a tax free lump of 25% on the member's 55th birthday, while Capita Oak offered up to 15% cash upfront - regardless of age.

Both schemes promised a guaranteed return by investing the money in Lancashire storage company, Store First Ltd, part of Group First.

But many have struggled for months to receive payments, or get any details of where their pensions are and whether the promised return has been added.

The Liverpool-based sales companies - including Sanderson Clarke Ltd and Jackson Francis Ltd - have now ceased trading, leaving clients with no contact details.

In the case of Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme, BBC Radio 4's You and Yours has learned of at least 150 people who transferred more than £9 million.

Jane Parker from Kidderminster was first contacted by a sales agent in early 2012.

"I had a cold call from a company called Sanderson Clarke, a gentlemen called Dominic, about unlocking frozen pensions, and I agreed to look into it," she says.

"Once they looked into my pensions and said yes, they can be unlocked, they sent a chap called Ian round to have a chat with me.

"He said he was an independent financial adviser, but he only explained about this company called Group First, and that I'd get this 8% return.

"It sounded very good and very believable."

Jane says one of her frozen pensions - worth £30,000 - was transferred into the scheme.

"The letter from Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme looked very legitimate," Jane says, "with a registered number, with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs written on it."

She has since heard nothing from either Sanderson Clarke or Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme.

"I was getting concerned I hadn't heard anything so I tried to ring but nobody ever got back to me."

'Nothing'

Eventually the line went dead, Jane says. Now she has no contact details at all.

"I have nothing, no paperwork whatsoever. This is my little pot of money for when I retire, so what I'd like to do is take all that money and put it into a legitimate scheme"

Steve Lomas, from Swinton in Greater Manchester, had a similar experience.

He was persuaded to transfer his £60,000 local authority frozen pension pot into the Henley scheme in the spring of 2013.

He was told he would receive a 25% tax free lump sum after his 55th birthday later that year.

Nothing happened. For a year he called and emailed Sanderson Clarke repeatedly - but they did not phone back.

He did eventually receive his lump sum, after the BBC made enquiries. He is still unsure where his remaining money is.

Illegal

Graham Williams from Cardiff was persuaded by the Liverpool sales agents to transfer his £117,000 frozen pension into the Capita Oak scheme.

Unlike the Henley scheme members, he received 15% cash up front, almost immediately, although he was only 48, and payments before 55 are illegal.

He, too, has since heard nothing about where the rest of his pension is.

A former employee of the Liverpool sales companies told Shari Vahl from "You & Yours" that staff were frequently told to fob off pension members - many of whom became increasingly desperate.

"Basically I was getting told to lie to them," the employee said.

"It just got too much just listening to grown men crying, literally breaking down on the phone.

"It was not nice at all."

The former employee claims managers lied to clients "millions of times".

It was "things like, I'll follow up the call , I'll give you a call back, I'm writing it into my diary right now"

"They weren't writing anything into their diary, they didn't even have a diary."

The former boss of the sales companies, Stuart Chapman Clark, denies these allegations.

Danger

Another person who transferred their pension to Henley - Tony Helps - became so angry he chained himself to building of the Liverpool sales companies and contacted the media.

His gesture largely worked, and his pension was transferred out of the scheme minus £4,000 - which no-one can explain.

The BBC investigation has discovered a web of companies behind the schemes.

The deal to invest Henley Retirement Benefit Scheme money into Store First was brokered by Stuart Chapman Clark, who ran the Liverpool sales companies, and who has denied any wrong-doing.

The BBC did speak to the man who runs the storage company, Store First Ltd, Toby Whittaker.

He confirmed Stuart Chapman Clark came to him with a third of the £9m transferred into the Henley pension scheme, about £3.5m.

Mr Whittaker said that money was invested in Store First.

Mr Whittaker said he paid the guaranteed return - 16% - as promised, up front, on day one.

But he claims he paid it to a company based in Gibraltar, Transeuro Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Cold calls

The BBC has tried and failed to make contact with that company.

Millions of pounds remain unaccounted for.

Experts say the case highlights the dangers of responding to cold calls, and allowing your pension to be invested in unregulated investments sold by unregulated advisers.

"Always, always check that the people you are dealing with are authorised by the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority," says Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"If they aren't regulated don't deal with them however plausible they seem or enticing the deal they're offering.

"Don't deal with unregulated advisers and don't put your money into unregulated investments; remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is."

You can hear the special edition of You and Yours here and there will be a special report on BBC Wales X-ray.programme at 19:30

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