Equitable Life action group hires BPPA to assist claims

Equitable Members' Action Group, which represents 10,000 disgruntled Equitable Life policy holders, has hired Bell Pottinger Public Affairs as its first lobbying agency.

The agency has been hired to aid the group's bid for compensation. The group estimates that policy holders have borne losses of £4bn that are unrelated to the stock market crash.

BPPA has also been hired to lobby the parliamentary ombudsman to extend its current investigation into the Financial Services Authority's regulation of the beleaguered assurance society.

A key target will be Anne Abraham, the recently appointed ombudsman.

The group's general secretary Paul Braithwaite said: 'The committee felt we needed expert help to communicate with Government.'

Braithwaite added that the ombudsman's current investigation, focusing on one individual complaint, should be extended to provide a broader review of the role that regulators played during the problems affecting the company.

Previous ombudsman Sir Michael Buckley issued a statement late last year saying that one individual complaint was being investigated, as it was broadly representative of 'many his office had received'.

Equitable Life's recent troubles began in 2000 when the House of Lords upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that the firm had to honour a commitment to paying bonuses to policy holders.

Unable to meet the subsequent £1.5bn bill and having failed to find a buyer it closed its doors to new business in December of that year.

The company's history is also being investigated by an independent inquiry headed by Lord Penrose and announced in August 2001 by the Treasury.

The BPPA team is lead by MD Peter Bingle and associate director Paul Montague-Smith. Bingle said: 'The Equitable Life debacle is one of the most high-profile regulatory failures in living memory.'

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