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by MONITOR
PENSION problems are an emotive issue, for obvious reasons. To work for many years in the belief that a guaranteed pension is accumulating for retirement, only to find that the money has disappeared, must be a blow from which it is difficult to recover. There is, of course, always an element of risk attached to any financial arrangement but when people are told by the responsible government department that no risk exists they should be able to depend on that advice. However, close to 100'000 people in Britain have discovered that the government's word is not necessarily its bond. Their cases have just been revealed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in a devastating report which accuses the government of providing “inaccurate, incomplete, unclear and inconsistent” advice in official information and consequently causing “real suffering, distress and uncertainty”. The advice criticised by the Ombudsman was issued by the Department for Works and Pensions and included the assurance that “the Government wanted to remove any worries people had about the safety of their occupational pension scheme” but failed to spell out that their savings could be wiped out if a company scheme collapsed. That is what happened in many of the cases reviewed by the Ombudsman who recommended that the government should restore all lost pensions, if necessary by payment from public funds, estimated at between five and ten million pounds The pensions minister, Stephen Timms, rejected this recommendation on the grounds that it could not use taxpayers' cash to compensate those affected. The Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has taken a long time to satisfy herself that the information provided by the government was defective and she will be concerned to see whether the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats pursue her recommendations. They would win considerable support from the general public if they were to do so.