Baroness Altmann says government delay costing pensioners thousands of pounds could be due to the DWP’s PR strategy
The delay in laying down regulations to lift the PPF cap for long-term workers has already cost pensioners thousands of pounds. Now, former pensions minister Baroness Altmann says the latest hold up could all be down to officials waiting for the perfect PR moment to break the story.
Two years and counting
The new laws, which protect employees with more than 20 years’ service at companies where the pension scheme has fallen into the PPF, were passed back in 2014. However, retirees have been forced to wait two years since then for the regulations to be laid down.
Altmann commented: “These measures were passed two years ago. These people who will be in line for more money and who have lost so much of their pension already have been desperately waiting for the regulations to be done because although the law has changed, they can’t start getting the money until the regulations themselves are laid.
“There wasn’t any work really going on when I started. I got the officials to go back and do some work, and the regulations were ready to be laid last week. And I had agreed that they would be laid last week and they weren’t.”
There’s no valid reason why this hasn’t been done and it’s the worst aspect of government”
She puts this down to PR strategy at Department of Work and Pensions, which Altmann believes ran out of time to create a positive PR story, around the changes.
“There’s no valid reason why this hasn’t been done and it’s the worst aspect of government… It’s no work, the regulations are ready… Usually when they do something like that though, they want to put out a press notice and they want to get some positive publicity for it and there were lots of other stories so they didn’t bother.”
“Surely government should care about people… This is the worst sort of way to make policy. If you care about the people who this policy is designed for - you do it as soon as you possibly can!”
Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, who announced the changes when he was pensions minister in 2012 argued that a possible reason for the delay could be to make sure that Altmann’s replacement wasn’t faced with complicated pensions debates in his first days in the job.
He said: “in principle [the legislation] would have gone through on the nod. But it is just possible that there could have been a debate if the opposition had called one. So if you were a very, very risk averse department, worried that the new minister would have to do a complex topic, then you might say ‘oh actually we’ll leave it a few months’ – it could be as daft as that.”
The DWP argued that the delay in legislation was primarily down to a change in Prime Minister. A spokesman explained: “We were looking at get the written statement to the house to announce the fact that we were going to bring around the secondary legislation the week before recess.
“As it turned out at the time, as I’m sure everybody knows, the Prime Minister changed and that meant that there was a natural pause in some of the activities just to make sure that we had the new priorities coming from the new leadership which meant that we weren’t able to lay that written ministerial statement before the recess.”
When asked if PR strategy had played any role in the delays, the DWP spokesperson added: “The key thing for us was the changing of the Prime Minister and the fact of where recess was. They were the key problems.”
Where are all the lawyers when you need them?
This is not the first time the regulation has been derailed. Steve Webb minister recalls initial delays due to a shortage of pensions lawyers.
He said: “In some ways we got the difficult bit done, we got primary legislation through. The 2014 pensions act was carried, it gave the government the power to write the regulations.
The lawyers who write pensions laws were busy doing pensions freedoms”
“Then what happened in the last few months of the last parliament was all the lawyers who write pensions laws were busy doing pensions freedoms.
”It seems a bit silly to say there weren’t enough lawyers but there’s only so many people who write pensions laws and they were busy writing the pensions freedoms act – so we ran out of time.”
“I assumed the new government would get on with it and sounds as though by a few weeks ago at least it had all been done and was ready to go.”
Fuel to the fire
For pensioners already frustrated by the initial holds up, a long summer’s wait will only add fuel to the fire.
There’s little affected retirees can do, other than continue to lobby their MPs, many of whom have already been writing letters to Altmann.
She said: “I just feel so sorry for the people who have been waiting and waiting. They came to see me, they wrote to me and I explained to them their pension has been decimated, it’s supposed to be protected by the PPF, they served their companies for decades, and the law was changed and now they still can’t get their money.”
“The PPF regulations are ready and that could have happened last week and these people could have then been getting their money through the summer. They now have further to wait, when they’ve already been waiting so long because officials were busy doing other things.”
The good news for is that the regulations are expected to be laid as soon as parliament returns.
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “When the house rises we are looking to get this laid as soon as possible – it’s been passed since 2014 so we’ve been working on it since then, that’s what we’re trying to deliver.”
However, the months between now and the end of summer recess could cost retirees dearly.
The problem here is that no money will be backdated”
Altmann said: “The problem here is that no money will be backdated, it will only start to flow once the regulations are down.
”It’s just not fair – when the money is owed to them and they don’t have any means of getting a penny of it until the regulations are down – for the government’s PR timetable to hold up laying these in parliament.”
Webb said: “It’s a fairness issue and we need to get on with it but I would hope and assume it’s just been delayed a couple of months.
“Bear in mind some of these folks have been capped for a long time. Although the primary legislation went through in 2014 some of them will have been capped in 2010 or 2008. So some of these folks - they’ve been waiting years, and with each passing month, it’s another month they’ll never get back… potentially it’s going to cost people thousands of pounds in some cases, certainly hundreds of pounds if not more each month.”