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By Michael Trudeau | Published May 17, 2012

HMRC warned over potential Ssas money laundering abuse

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Richard Mattison, director of professional trustee and administrator Whitehall Group and former director at James Hay, has written to HM Revenue and Customs warning that self-administered pension schemes lacking professional administrators are open to abuse by tax cheats and frauds.

Mr Mattison wrote to HMRC after initially taking his concerns to The Pensions Regulator. He said that in addition to the threat of fraudulent activity, 7 out of ten schemes that his firm takes on are being improperly run due to the lack of a professional administrator.

Mr Mattison said his concerns are particularly in relation to small self-administered schemes, for which no professional trustee is required as members are able to fulfil this role.

He said: “It is becoming clear that there is an opportunity for a bogus business to establish a Ssas without a professional trustee and register it online with HMRC, thereby giving it legitimacy.

“Funds can then be placed into the pension fund and withdrawn as tax free lump sums and retirement benefits.”

Mr Mattison says he took his concerns to The Pensions Regulator who referred him to HMRC. The revenue in turn told him that insistence on a trust basis contravenes European law.

Mr Mattison argued that not enforcing the requirement for schemes to be established under trust does not actually preclude the requirement of having a professional administrator.

He said: “We regularly come across pension schemes where their operation is not carried out in accordance with regulatory requirements because the administrator has no real knowledge of what these requirements are.”

Although his principal concerns are on what he sees as the ability to launder money using a registered pension scheme, he also argued that non-professional scheme administrators are unable to keep up to date with the duties and responsibilities required of them.

It is not uncommon for product providers to forego assigning a professional scheme administrator, in part to keep costs down, Mr Mattison said.

He picked out Friends Life as one firm that does not seem to offer a professional administrator by default, saying that his firm has taken on many schemes provided by the insurer.

A spokesperson for Friends Life said that it does not take on a professional administration role for its clients, explaining that a professional administrator will take on liability from the client and therefore could charge hefty fees.

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