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‘Unregulated consultants’ targeting consumers over Budget pension reforms

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Unregulated 'financial consultants' have started cold calling consumers with offers to unlock their pension pots following reforms announced at Budget 2014.

Michael Ward, managing director of consumer comparison site, warned this type of “pension pot chasing” could spark a second PPI (Payment Protection Insurance)-type scandal.

Savers will be able to access their pension savings as a lump sum from April next year under far-reaching changes announced by Chancellor George Osborne.

Ward was prompted to issue the warning after he received an unsolicited call from one such company.

“Quite remarkably, I received a telephone call from a company offering to initially reduce my business rate bills. They then proceeded to ask if I was aware of the changes to pensions that meant I could get access to all my pension money in one go and they could introduce me to a company that can instruct me on how to use the new 2014 Budget rules to enable me to release all my cash from my pension fund, ” he said.

“Apparently the advice is “free” and when I questioned if the third party was a qualified financial adviser, I was told they were ‘financial consultants’.

“Simply, this firm was going to sell my details as a lead. The call definitely wasn’t compliant with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules for financial promotions. The salesman said they were based in Manchester, however when I looked them up during the call, I could only see a Gibraltar address. When I questioned this, the salesman was adamant they have a branch in Manchester also. I checked and couldn’t find them on the FCA register.”

Ward said this raised questions about how unregulated companies are being allowed to interfere with people’s pensions, taking an introductory fee in the process and in all likelihood leaving the customer worse off years down the line when their money has run out.

He said: “I know, in order to give advice, advisers have to be formally trained as financial advisers and pass exams and maintain a programme of continuing education. When a member of the public telephones an insurance provider for help, the call centre operator is not allowed to advise the customer on what to buy – only offer help in using the system, delivering quotes and sorting general customer issues.”

According to Ward, unless the FCA steps in this could become a “national joke” along the lines of PPI, where mis-selling has led to billions of pounds of repayments.

Two thirds of adults in the UK have received nuisance PPI calls, according to a study by Citizens Advice released in August.

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