TTF Blog

Stephen Timms MP, pic: Parliament.uk
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 12 October 2020

Lawmakers are under pressure to close a shocking loophole that prevents the pensions industry from blocking the theft of pensions by transfer fraudsters. Recent research by Aviva indicates that, while this makes up only about 5% of reported frauds that target savers, the average sum lost to a transfer fraud is a devastating £70,000.

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, spoke up in a reading of the Pensions Bill last Wednesday, recounting evidence that he received in the pension scams inquiry, which Transparency Task Force helped to bring about in our campaign earlier this year.

Timms said: “We heard this morning from scheme trustees not only that they had an obligation to transfer even if they knew perfectly well that the destination was a scam but that if they did not do it quickly enough they would be fined for not getting a move on”

Timms said that the pensions ombudsman had tried to protect consumers in 2015, when it ‘allowed trustees to decline a transfer request when there were concerns about a scam‘ but perversely, this due diligence was then apparently strait-jacketed under the law: “The Hughes v. Royal Londoncourt case in 2016 overturned that determination. That must be changed … It is important that that change is made.”

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CIty of London; Pic by Colin & Kim Hansen
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 05 October 2020

Violation Tracker (VT) is a powerful tool in the United States to keep tabs on all fines across all industries. Transparency Task Force is launching a campaign to bring it to the United Kingdom.

Using the existing database, for the United States, you can see, for example:

  • that fines for financial offenses since the year 2000 have totalled $305,457,241,721, and that JP Morgan Chase tops that list.
  • that there have been just over $96billion of fines in the United States for environmental offenses largely to oil companies, with BP, British Petroleum, having paid-out the most, $27,827,796,980 covering 142 separate violations over the last twenty years.
  • that Wells Fargo topped VT’s bill in fines for ‘fraud’ due to $3billion levied on the bank in a single penalty this year.
  • that Facebook tops VT’s bill for consumer-protection-related offenses paying $5,002,450,000 in fines for just two offenses.

TTF’s founder Andy Agathangelou told Reaction‘s Maggie Pagano last week: “We need properly functioning and transparent markets … to ensure that capitalism is doing what it is designed to do, and [is not] distorted by the bad behaviour of big corporations.”

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TTF's meeting with PM Johnson
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 29 September 2020

Transparency Task Force’s founder, Andy Agathangelou, has written to Boris Johnson to emphasise the need for a ‘tax amnesty’ for fraud victims unfairly hounded by HMRC for tax on pilfered pensions, writing of ‘the emotional and financial shock that endures, without reprieve, when a member of the public is defrauded of their pension savings’.

The TTF letter follows a promising meeting last Friday between the Prime Minister, Andy Agathangelou, pension scam victim David Burgess and his wife Lana. Mr Burgess is a constituent of Mr Johnson’s in Uxbridge. Several years ago he lost a devastating £38,000 of savings  in an HMRC-registered Ark pension scheme, since deemed by a High Court judge to be a ‘fraud on the trustee’s powers’.

A key reason Mr Burgess had trusted the Ark scheme was ‘because it was registered with HMRC and the Pensions Regulator’. In 2015, Mr Johnson – as Mr Burgess’s MP – had promised to contact Linn Homer, then-head of HMRC, to raise his case. However,  David and his wife Lana heard nothing back from Mr Johnson at the time and remained in suspense. Hopefully, this new engagement indicates some willingness to grasp the nettle?

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by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 21 September 2020

Parliamentarians would like to change the law to help protect £trillions of pension pot savings from being stolen or squandered in the UK. What needs to happen?

The Pensions Bill is progressing through Parliament and at least 31  MPs have expressed an interest in the All-Party Group on pension scams, which we helped set up at the beginning of the summer. So far, two ‘Wild West’ arenas appear to be drawing interest: 

  1. Online spaces, which appear to be a free-for-all for fraudsters to advertise in.
  2. International activity  – with scammers who operate across jurisdictions, but face consequences in none of them.

TTF’s founder Andy Agathangelou told MPs’ Inquiry on Pension Scams last Wednesday: “We see a general lack of international collaboration … we are quite concerned that there is a very problematic grey area … when somebody carries out a transfer where part of the process involves an unregulated entity operating outside the UK.

“We think there is a huge breach going on that needs to be looked at and we think that many people have been told by the regulators that the regulators cannot help because it is outside their jurisdiction. We believe the regulators—at least in some cases, possibly many cases—are wrong.”

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Offshore island - Jersey -- pic by Florian Pépellin

 by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 14 September 2020

“I have long been concerned about the approaches of offshore advisers and I believe that this should be the particular focus …” commented Bob Blackman last week, as he was appointed to chair our All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pension Scams.  Rob Roberts, Lord Kirkhope and Nick Smith will vice-chair, supported by a voluntary Secretariatget in touch if you’d like to help.

This week, TTF’s founder Andy Agathangelou is looking forward to delivering our evidence to MPs’ newly-opened Pension Scams Inquiry – which we campaigned for – he’ll be on Parliament TV at 9am this Wednesday.

Tip of an iceberg

The inquiry on pension scams chaired by Stephen Timms – which will focus on ‘pension freedoms’ legislation – can only skim the surface of the UK’s vulnerability to fraud more widely. Although bank branch staff stopped £19m cons in the first half of 2020, this category of crime is booming. Action Fraud’s interactive dashboard shows that alleged fraud victims’ reported losses in July edged towards half a £billion — £418.6M in that month alone from 37,414 incidents, an approximate tripling on previous rates.

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by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 07 September 2020

TTF’s founder Andy Agathangelou and I have completed TTF’s sixth interview documenting the impact of pension scams, on the cusp of a Parliamentary inquiry that TTF called for. The interviewee, who was scammed of a pension worth at least £40,000, is working all-hours to try to recoup his savings. He believes he has strong evidence on the group that scammed him and that they are still operating: “Why aren’t they arrested now? … Why can’t something be done about these people? I do a 14-hour shift, every day, and then I come back here and do they wonder why I’ve got the hump. … I’ve got no life, as a working person; I’d love to do a 9-to-5 and I can’t.”

MPs’ preferred deadline is this Wednesday for submitting your own evidence to the inquiry. Beyond this, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pension Scams also has its inaugural meeting this week. The members are: Jonathan Reynolds the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions; Bob Blackman – Conservative MP for Harrow East; Jack Dromey Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington; Harriet Baldwin Conservative MP for West Worcestershire; Nick Smith Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent; Yvonne Fovargue Labour MP for Makerfield; Christina Rees Labour MP for Neith; Henry Smith Conservative MP for Crawley; Lord Balfe Conservative peer; Baroness Crawley, Labour peer; Baroness Bowles Lib Dem peer and Lord Harris, Labour peer. 

If you would like to get involved in supporting this, please get in touch.

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by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 01 September 2020

The independent investigator of complaints against city watchdogs, Antony Townsend, has spoken out against regulators’ plan to impose a £10,000 ceiling on compensation if they caused financial loss. Transparency Task Force is hosting a special Symposium  tomorrow to discuss the controversy, to help inform our reply to the FCA’s truncated 8-week consultation.

The FCA’s plan states that in ‘exceptional circumstances’ more than £10,000 may be awarded when they have caused financial loss. However, those circumstances are not defined. In his considered response, Mr Townsend says that, in his opinion, the compensation cap is not honouring the spirit of the ‘statutory immunity’ from being sued that has long been afforded to Regulators by Parliament.

by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 24 August 2020

The Complaints Commissioner has just critiqued City watchdogs for running a truncated eight-week consultation that caps payments for financial loss at £10,000 where regulators’ failings were the ‘sole or primary cause’ of the loss.

Anthony Townsend, the Complaints Commissioner, said the proposals “represent an explicit fettering of compensation for direct financial loss.”

Andy Agathangelou, Transparency Task Force Founder, has organised a special Symposium on this issue on 2nd September, prior to the consultation deadline on September 14th. He says: “This issue is of great concern to TTF because we want to do all we can to help protect consumers’ interests, hence our symposium and of course we’ll also be responding to the consultation itself.”

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by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 17 August 2020

This week we are asking we have found no instances of the Pension Protection Fund’s  Fraud Compensation Fund being used to support scam victims?

Some are hoping that a High Court case, The Board of the Pensions Protection Fund and Dalriada Trustees,  could break the deadlock.

In other news, The Financial Conduct Authority, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Bank of England are currently consulting on ‘Complaints Against the Regulators’. The FCA is proposing to cap compensation for  ‘very high level of distress’ caused by ‘a major failure of our processes’ at £1000; while refusing to interview complainants or witnesses.  Get your views in.

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Graphic by Citizens' Advice
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 10 August 2020

Pension scammers can strip enormous sums of money from savers, thanks in part to very low public awareness of the problem. We believe victims’ stories need to be heard. With this in mind Transparency Task Force is busy interviewing Pension Scam victims to inform MPs’ new Inquiry on Pension Scams. Our deadline is rushing up: September 9th.

If you have been pension-scammed or know somebody who has, this is exactly who we need to hear from the most. TTF can, if you wish compile video interviews – similar to my chat with TTF’s founder, Andy Agathangelou, on TTF TV, to help you to address MPs directly with your concerns.

We also value the input of unnamed, anonymous sources to this investigation. We have pension scam victims on our Advisory Board, we know trust is paramount and we keep confidential sources private.

You can also submit evidence directly to MPs, which we also encourage.

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by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting, 03 August 2020

Last week brought the very welcome news that MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee are heeding TTF’s call to probe pension scams. They want to hear from victims in particular — pension scam victims in 2018 reported losing £82,000 on average, which has a devastating impact. TTF’s Founder Andy Agathangelou welcomed the inquiry in our first ever Vlog, TTF TV .

As the Inquiry chair, Stephen Timms MP, told Radio 4 listeners last week, MPs ‘do not know’ where the money goes in these rogue schemes and it is very unlikely that the Government can recover money lost. However, we hope that the inquiry will help the victims of scams to pursue some measure of justice, and to prevent others being targeted.

In their Call for Evidence, MPs announce: “The deadline for written evidence is 9 September 2020. … your evidence will be able to have more impact on our work if we receive it by the deadline.”

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by Alex Varley-Winter,  Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting 27 July 2020

A new alliance is forming in Westminster against an ‘epidemic’ of devastating scams that are thought to have stripped up to £10bn from people’s hard-earned pension pots. Furthermore, people being targeted in scams increased during lockdown. Last week we prepared the ground for a dedicated All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pension Scams at a meeting between MPs, industry reps and victims. The Group’s inaugural meeting is scheduled for 7 September, and we hope it will serve as a touchstone for meaningful change.

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