Liddell names the worst 24 pension firms

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The Independent Online
Helen Liddell, the Economic Secretary, yesterday warned the insurance industry that tough disciplinary action would be taken against companies and individuals if the pace of redress to pensions mis-selling victims did not improve markedly over the next three months.

The warning came as the Treasury issued its first "name and shame" list of 24 top pension companies, which showed many of Britain's biggest household names had only compensated a handful of clients.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, also joined in the furore over the inability of providers to offer swift redress to pension victims, describing progress to date as "disappointing". He told MPs at Question Time: "We want to put further pressure on them to deal with this problem."

The Treasury's tables show that the percentage of agreed settlements is barely 1 per cent of cases for several companies and financial advisers. They include Allied Dunbar, Abbey Life, Sedgwick, the French insurer GAN, Colonial and Hogg Robinson.

Barclays Life, the most successful company on the list, has agreed to settle 2,315 cases out of the 16,700 it identified as being urgent priorities, a total of 14 per cent. Pearl, Prudential, Royal London, Legal & General, Norwich Union and Lloyds/TSB Group had resolved between 5 and 7 per cent of cases by the end of last month.

In an answer to a Parliamentary question, Mrs Liddell said: "The volume of cases cleared is extremely disappointing. All the firms have a great deal more work to do. Some appear hardly to have begun.

"It is now imperative that all firms - not just these 24 - which have sold personal pensions should make serious efforts to improve the performance in completing their caseloads. This is not only in the interests of their customers but also of their own reputations with the general public.

"I will decide once I have seen some further figures to measure progress what further action may be called for."

Among the options being considered by the Minister is the possibility of barring individuals, including company directors, from practising in the industry. Changes in the law needed to impose any necessary penalties have not been ruled out. Big fines against companies may also be levied by the Personal Investment Authority, the industry regulator.

Government demands for immediate action by pension providers follow a wait of almost three years by hundreds of thousands of people who were identified as having been mis-sold a personal pension in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Some companies pointed out, however, that the apparently low percentage of settled cases ignored many other claims that had been excluded for genuine reasons, including those where pensions were sold because no occupational scheme was available.

A spokeswoman for the Association of British Insurers, the industry trade body, said: "Companies have every intention of putting people back in the position they would have been had they not been mis-sold and we are disappointed that it has taken as long as it has.

"We are confident that as the monthly figures are published they will show a rapid escalating proportion of completed cases."