On a rainy Tuesday, we wiggled our way round the back of Westminster Cathedral to the DWP which houses Pensions Minister Ros Altmann and also Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan-Smith. As it turned out, it also housed a security guard called “Babs”.
We were a trio from Ark Class Action which represents victims of pension scams such as Ark, Capita Oak and Evergreen. With me were the vice chair (an Ark victim who lost her final salary pension along with her partner); and secretary (also an Ark victim who lost her final salary pension along with her husband). The previous evening, they had spent several hours comforting a very distressed Capita Oak victim who was worried sick that the assets of his pension – Store First store pods – were now worthless.
We had gone to meet recently appointed Altmann to urge her to ensure the government takes the action which is so desperately needed to tackle pension scams. Altmann, former adviser on pensions to the Labour government, had severely criticized George Osborne for his “cavalier” attitude to Britain’s 12 million pensioners – one of the most powerful voting blocks in the country. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/mar/27/george-osborne-ignore-pensioners-peril#comments
We had decided not to waste our time seeing Iain Duncan-Smith since a year previously he had promised support, action and meetings, but had turned out to be as dishonest as the scammers themselves. After his false promises, he had then gone on to “lose” one member’s entire file, including copies of bank statements and then lied about having returned it by recorded delivery.
Altmann had always come across to me as an honourable person and we had high hopes that she would take the time and trouble to understand the seriousness of the pension scam industry – which continues to flourish and ruin thousands of victims – costing billions of pounds’ worth of pensions every year. Having already met shadow Pensions Minister Nick Thomas Symonds, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and MP Wes Streeting, we felt sure Altmann would want to engage with the Class Action and spearhead an anti pension scam campaign without hesitation.
Having spent weeks trying to set up the meeting with Altmann, our mission was to ensure she understood that the system of policing and preventing pension scams was quite simply broken. We wanted her to become the champion who would take the credit for putting this disgraceful situation right while regulators, police authorities, HMRC and the government continue to fail to address the problem. With the Pensions Select committee aiming to treat pension scams as a spectator sport, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmworpen/371/37106.html we thought Altmann might step up to the plate and launch a military-style, zero-tolerance initiative against pension scams and scammers.
We thought wrong. Babs the security guard informed us:
“You are not going to be seen and you need to leave the premises. This is not a Job Centre”.
Altmann has brought both the Cabinet and the House of Lords into disrepute by publicly turning her back on thousands of victims of pension scams. She would do well to remember that along with many frontline workers, there are Police officers and Armed Forces personnel losing their pensions every day.
MPs have already urged the government to take action against the embarrassing and disgraceful scandal of unchallenged pension fraud.
I suggest she puts rather more effort into doing her job properly and less effort into comparing the DWP with a Job Centre. Her responsibility is to champion the cause of thousands of victims of pension fraud – both helping existing victims and preventing future ones. Altmann should hark back to the warnings she herself made about George Osborne’s “cavalier attitude” to pensioners before she was appointed pensions minister. And also remember the criticisms she was making about the government four years ago. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/mar/27/george-osborne-ignore-pensioners-peril#comments And then search her conscience honestly.