Unison to sue over pension mis-selling

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Britain's biggest union is to join the legal battle being waged against large life companies and financial advisers for allegedly mis-selling personal pension plans.

Unison, the public service union, is to join the GMB general union and teachers' unions in suing companies that include Prudential Assurance, Pearl Assurance, Allied Dunbar and Abbey Life for selling policies under which individuals claim to have lost thousands of pounds in benefits. The big companies could lose millions of pounds as a result of the court action.

Unions claim that many companies have been given legal advice that they should delay decisions as long as possible.

Unison has finally "lost patience" with the reviews, which are being undertaken by companies on the advice of pension industry leaders. Glyn Jenkins, national pensions officer of the union, said yesterday that many members may lose out completely because their cases were approaching legal deadlines.

The GMB is expecting the first of its cases to come to court in November after a High Court ruling that they should be "fast-tracked" through the system. Bill Day, pension expert at the GMB, said that documents were being exchanged between union members and the companies concerned, although he expressed frustration at the continuing delay. "If these cases are in the fast track I dread to think about the 'slow track' version," he said.

Mr Jenkins said Unison was "dissatisfied" with the progress being made by the pension industry. He said the union believed that self-regulation of the industry was clearly not working.

The sector had in place a review programme which relied on the companies investigating their own practices. The review was not only behind schedule but open to conflicts of interest.

"Many people were encouraged by this Government to make their own pension arrangements. Unfortunately, this has left many people vulnerable to high- pressure selling from life companies and instead of looking forward to a secure and happy retirement they are facing the prospect of scrimping and saving just to makes ends meet."

A spokeswoman for the Personal Investment Authority said the review being undertaken still offered the best way of ensuring redress for investors who had been disadvantaged by mis-selling.

This redress would be without cost to the investor, she stressed. "We are determined to see that firms apply the process effectively, fairly and quickly."