Business

New government pension rules open the door to rip-offs

Notes and coins Image copyright PA

Some companies are exploiting new pension freedom rules to get access to pension savings, Panorama has discovered.

The rules, introduced last year, allow those aged 55 and over full access to their pension pots with the first 25% tax free.

Undercover footage shows one unregulated consultant giving advice and suggesting high risk investments.

The government has said they are committed to protecting pension savers.

Panorama sent an undercover reporter to a call centre in Derby - run by a company called Lifestyle Connections - which offers free pension reviews on behalf of its sister company First Review Pension Services.

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Media captionReporter Fiona Phillips and pensions expert Alan Higham watch as First Review Pension Services consultant Bruce Nicholas offers advice to undercover reporter.

The undercover footage shows call centre staff offering assessments to people which they claim will show how the new pension freedoms affect them and what will happen at the consultation.

The Pension Advisory Service has warned: "You should be very wary of anybody who approaches you regarding a free pension review because at the end of the day they're there to make money and you need to be really clear before you accept any offer from them."

Cape Verde

The Lifestyle Connections call centre tries to sign people up to face to face consultations, which are then carried out by First Review Pension Services.

In the undercover footage, an employee of Lifestyle Connections, is seen telling Panorama's undercover reporter to lie to the people she is being trained to call.

The employee then reveals the aim of the company is to get "everyone to invest in Cape Verde". The employee adds that the customers shouldn't be told this.

Cape Verde is an emerging tourist destination off the north west coast of Africa. Both Lifestyle Connections and First Review Pension Services are owned by a company called The Resort Group - a property developer with a string of resorts there.

"There is clearly no doubt that it's all about selling an investment in Cape Verde," says pensions expert Alan Higham. "It's not about a proper pension review... it's not about working out what's generally best for you. It's about trying to find the best line to sell you this investment in Cape Verde."

Image caption The Resort Group owner Rob Jarrett is a former financial advisor from Leeds

Another employee at the call centre told the undercover reporter that The Resort Group owner Rob Jarrett, a former financial advisor from Leeds saw an opportunity during the 2008 financial crisis.

She says that "when the slump came, the recession, he wanted to look for a way of getting more investment".

On 25 June, Panorama asked the Resort Group for a statement.

It replied: "We are grateful to Panorama" and "are investigating as a matter of urgency. All investments with the Resort Group PLC are safe and all our investors have received all payments due." A pension transfer into the Resort Group is not possible without advice from an IFA.

Customer awareness

The Resort Group also told us it decided that in February, that First Review and Lifestyle Connections would stop taking on new business after 30 June. First Review Pension Services and Lifestyle Connections said that, if true, they cannot condone this behaviour which is now the subject of an internal review.

Panorama requested interviews with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Treasury, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator about the results of its investigation but none were available to be interviewed.

The DWP released a statement saying they are committed to protecting all pension savers including those seeking to access their pension freedoms.

Nearly a quarter of a million people have taken advantage of the new freedom to take control of their pensions.

The Pensions Advisory Service advise that "the biggest protection is raising customer awareness....and getting people to do due diligence into the company they're doing business with."

Panorama - Pension Rip-Offs Exposed is broadcast on BBC One on Monday 11 July at 20:30 BST. Or catch up afterwards on BBC iPlayer