Pension advisers cleared by PIA

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A City watchdog's inquiry is poised to clear insurance companies and independent financial advisers of allegations that they have been engaged in the systematic mis-selling of top-up pensions to their clients.

The personal investment authority will say there is no serious evidence that its members wrongly advised people to set up free-standing voluntary contribution schemes in place of company ones.

The regulator is, however, expected to repeat guidance given to insurers and IFAs as to when it is appropriate to sell such policies to their clients.

Its findings are aimed at damping down fears that the mis-selling of top-up pensions was likely to lead to a repeat of the personal pension scandal.

In that instance, insurers face a compensation bill worth billions of pounds after a report in October 1994 said that up to 1.5 million people were wrongly advised to transfer out of their company pension schemes.

A separate PIA investigation began last year after reports that people in company pension schemes were being advised to top them up or face a lower income at retirement.

Many employees in company schemes may not have paid enough into them to guarantee a full pension. Employers often have arrangements enabling their staff to pay additional voluntary contributions to boost retirement benefits.

Company top-up schemes are usually cheaper because most or all of the management charges are met by employers. In contrast, anyone with a private pension arrangement could end up paying hundreds, or even thousands of pounds in charges by the time they retire.

Suggestions last year that advisers were promoting expensive free-standing schemes in place of cheaper company ones drew condemnation from the Trades Union Congress.

However, despite suggestions that hundreds of thousands of free-standing voluntary contribution schemes had been inappropriately sold, it is understood the PIA was unable to find more than a few cases where this was the case.

It is believed that the TUC was unable to produce evidence to back its claims.Garry Heath, chief executive of the IFA Association, the advisers' trade body, said: "This confirms what we thought. Our members acted in the best interest of their clients."