We are talking about sabotage of the pension compensation process

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The Independent Online
Not for the first time and, I suspect, not for the last either, the personal pensions watchdog issued figures this week showing that the process of paying compensation to hundreds of thousands of victims of the mis-selling scandal is proceeding painfully slowly.

Readers of this column will excuse, I hope, another rant. The fact is that the Personal Investment Authority, the regulator tasked with settling the matter quickly, has failed dismally in its job.

Almost every major policy initiative, including the Government's decision to "name and shame" insurers which delay compensating their clients, has been forced on recalcitrant PIA members, initially against PIA advice.

While the latest efforts by the Government to speed things up are to be welcomed, an internal report leaked this week to The Independent about one company, Britannic, makes chilling reading.

Investigators who looked at Britannic's records discovered a shambolic approach to dealing with the pensions compensation review, including massive inefficiency.

Random samples of the company's files found significant numbers of policyholders applying for their pensions to be reviewed were being turned down without a proper reason being given. Worse, some callers were told not even to bother applying to have their pensions checked for evidence of mis-selling.

There is little doubt that what was happening at Britannic is also taking place at a number of leading insurance companies. If so, we are talking not just about ineffectiveness but sabotage of the compensation process for tens of thousands of policyholders.

Some time ago, a senior insurance executive told me that, despite suggestions that his industry wanted to resolve the problem, the reverse was true. After all, no matter how good the industry as a whole might be at cleaning the problem up, there would always be someone there to tarnish the others. So why not stall too? It might mean more bad publicity, but compared with saving your company pounds 20m or pounds 30m in compensation costs, a few critical headlines were an acceptable price to pay.

Ultimately, it will be down to you, the readers, and those of us in the media who have pushed and campaigned for full compensation for victims of the scandal, to ensure that people are not let down.

This week we publish an important story about repayment mortgages (page 24). It seems most lenders are using a system of calculating the amounts repaid and still owed which hugely increases the total cost of buying a home. On a pounds 50,000 loan over 25 years, the over-payment can come to at least pounds 13,000.

Lenders defend their charging structure by claiming that everyone knows they do this. Let's put it to the test. If you knew about their charging system, and that other lenders apply a far fairer approach, and you are perfectly happy to pay over the odds, please write and tell me. If not, get ready to switch mortgages to a better lender.

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