Stephen Ward, a high-profile promoter of the Ark Business Consulting’s pensions liberation schemes, has resurfaced with new pension products, which he said were “above board”.
The former government pensions adviser, who lives in Spain and runs the Alicante-based advisory firm Premier Pension Solutions, had promoted the Ark scheme in 2011.
The controversial pension liberation scheme allegedly left people with large tax bills and debts. In May 2011, The Pensions Regulator was already looking at six schemes operated by Ark Business Consulting (ABC). ABC operated a structure that used loans between pension schemes as a means of unlocking pension capital prior to retirement.
In 2012, The Pensions Regulator listed the Ark schemes in a statement warning consumers about pensions liberation.
However, Mr Ward said: “The schemes with which Premier Pension Solutions is involved are completely above board. They are not involved in pensions liberation and they are nothing like Ark. The Ark thing is history now and my involvement with that was administrative.”
He added that all the pension schemes are registered with HM Revenue & Customs.
A spokesman for HMRC said: “We have a legal duty of taxpayer confidentiality so cannot comment or discuss this.”
Premier Pension Solutions, which on its website is described as an advice firm, specialises in qualifying recognised overseas pension schemes (Qrops), qualifying non-UK pension schemes and UK pension planning for expats.
It is registered with the Comision Nacional del Mercado de Valores, the Spanish government agency responsible for the financial regulation of the securities markets.
When asked if he worked with UK regulated IFAs, Mr Ward said: “We have business relationships with some FCA-regulated IFAs but they are long-standing and go back many years.” Angela Brooks, chairman of the Ark Class Action Group campaign, said the Ark scheme provided a salutary warning to advisers, suggesting there could be “trouble” for unwary consumers when the new pension freedoms come in.
She said some of her fellow campaigners were still lobbying on getting fair redress for people who lost money as a result of Ark Business Consulting.
Ms Brooks, who is based in Spain, said: “If the problem was bad before, it is going to get 1000 times worse. There is going to be no protection”.
She added that if FCA-regulated IFAs were to become involved in these schemes it would “call the whole system into question”.
It is understood that a representative of the group is meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, to discuss the potential pitfalls around pensions liberation firms.
The Ark business model was based around a ‘pension reciprocation plan’ structure which used loans between pension schemes to unlock pension funds before retirement.
In December 2011 the high court ruled that these arrangements were legally void. People who took their pensions out early were hit by significant tax charges of up to 55 per cent on the loan they received from their pot.
Some people were faced with bills which were bigger than the value of their original pension pot.
Right to reply
A spokesman for The Pensions Regulator said it did not comment on individual cases. He said: “Our message to retirement savers is check the facts before you make an irreversible decision – a lifetime’s savings could be lost in a moment.”