The Independent View: Pensions reform – the right to advice is right

citizens adviceDuring the Budget last week George Osborne announced the right to free and impartial face-to-face advice in the context of pension reforms. On a day where we saw other good news — such as encouraging growth forecasts and falling unemployment figures — it was a poignant reminder of how vital advice is for anyone facing major life decisions at any time in their life.

We know more than most how invaluable quality advice is. This year is our 75th anniversary and, over the past 12 months, Citizens Advice helped more than two million people with over six million problems. So we know that, if you give people the right advice at the right time, then you allow them the power to make the choices that best meet their individual circumstances and needs. Offer someone the right advice and it is astounding what they can achieve.

On the flipside, if people can’t access the right support as they approach a time of upheaval in their lives, there is a risk that some will make decisions that could store up more problems for both themselves and the state in the long run.

The widespread response to last week’s Budget announcement tells us that it represents a real game-changer, none more so than for consumers. The financial decisions people have to make in the lead-up to their retirement are some of the greatest they will ever take — a daunting prospect for many. In 2013, Citizens Advice saw an 89 per cent increase in the number of people looking for advice about pensions on our website. There is a high demand for help in negotiating this complex arena.

We know from our work in other areas that offering people guidance as they face financial changes can help determine their long-term financial stability. For example, in the context of welfare reform our research shows that 9-in-0 people worry they are not ready for universal credit, and would need advice and support with budgeting, working out monthly payments, staying informed of changes and getting online. After receiving advice and support from the Citizens Advice service over half of our clients improved their skills in all of these key areas.

The person or organisation offering advice as part of the guidance guarantee must empower people to make positive financial choices in the round. The details of what this will look like and how it will work are still being shaped. But what is certain is that this is about more than just pensions advice or the belief that people should be able to take control of their own finances in retirement.

This is about the Government’s welcome move to recognise that people should be supported and trusted in equal measure to make the best choices for their own unique circumstances.

* Gillian Guy is the Chief Executive of Citizens' Advice. (Picture: Copyright Ian Enness)

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6 Comments

  • Sorry but I don’t get this entitlement to ‘free and impartial advice.’ I really don’t see how that is practically manageable and something that any future government could remove at whim.

  • Frank Booth, like healthcare, the advice is free and impartial at the point of use, obviously it’s paid for somewhere else and those giving it should be informed of all options.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Mar '14 - 11:48am

    An OK article, but I’m not sure what it is trying to achieve. If the CAB want to provide financial advice then I think they are going to struggle to attract good financial advisers.

    As a vested interest the idea of free advice makes me nervous – without support from the industry the state will end up with sub standard advisers. I recommend working with the industry with the industry on this.

    The idea also needs to be funded by the taxpayer. Public services do not pay for themselves 100%.

    The idea is workable, but I and many other would object to a big grand scheme trying to create advisers version of the NHS, including taxpayers.

  • Barry Fleet 31st Mar '14 - 2:31pm

    Graham is right. If individuals need proper advice personalised to their actual situation [ and many people clearly will need it ], then that is provided by independent financial advisers, not by the CAB, which could only provide general guidance unless they start employing qualified advisers, and there aren’t enough of those already working for commercial firms.

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