Pensions crisis is looming for PROs

If you run a search for the keyword ‘pensions’ in newspapers, specialist publications and online, you are be assailed by an avalanche of references. Pensions are no longer dull.

Those selling pensions have an uphill slog – a sceptical customer base shocked by the drip feed of stories about hard-working people losing the value of their retirement plans and inclined to be highly dubious about promised reforms.

Only a decade ago all the talk was about early retirement and idyllic summers playing golf, cruising on the yacht or travelling the world. Now the reality is that young people, many fresh from university and deep in debt, are contemplating a working career into their seventies.

So the prospect, as comedian Dave Allen used to put it, of people getting up to the clock, going home to the clock and then receiving a clock for 40 years' service is going to become more, rather than less, of a feature in future.

The front-page splash in the Financial Times last Friday suggested that the Government's proposed reforms will not cost a whole lot more. But the penalty may be further steep rises in the retirement age. 

Now that pensions are worth so much, some people find it hard to stay honest. Fraud is rife. Every two years the Audit Commission runs a national fraud initiative (NFI) in the public and private sectors, tracking down people who claim pensions of the deceased.

Since 1998, NFI has detected more than £250m  of fraud and overpayment at participating bodies. One local council identified five cases where overpayments, which exceeded £100,000, had been made to widows, children and grandchildren of pensioners after they had passed away. 

So, on the one hand we have the thousands of people who feel they have been cheated out of their lifetime's savings by the system. On the other there are the fraudsters cheating the system.

Once the workings of the pensions systems seemed too arcane and complex for ordinary people to bother with. That has plainly changed. Increasingly it is going to fall to communications professionals to explain the intricacies of a system that is affecting all our lives.

Richard Peel is MD, communications and public reporting at The Audit Commission

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