'Trapped' life bond investors split advisers

'Trapped' life bond investors split advisers

Advisers are divided over lobbying the government to help customers some say are unfairly trapped in old style life assurance bonds with large tax charges.

Earlier this year, Standard Life stopped customers with money held in life assurance bonds from cashing in any of their investments, following the debacle over property fund suspensions post the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Debate has now arisen as to whether the current system applied to these type of products is fair to customers.

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Dean Mullaly, managing director at London-based Mark Dean Wealth Management, told FTAdviser clients effectively cannot transfer out of these investments and as such there is a "swathe of disadvantaged older people" who are trapped.

Without one of four chargeable events happening, he said as far as HM Revenue & Customs is concerned clients are stuck in non-qualifying life assurance bonds and cannot change providers, leaving them paying 1-2 per cent for such products.

Four chargeable events exist where people can move out of these bonds, but where the money is taxed at 20 to 45 per cent.

These events are death; assignment for money or money's worth, taking more than 5 per cent under partial encashment and full encashment.

Where a client has a bond which is "pregnant with gains" - meaning it is only growth that exists in the product and the original capital has been taken out - if they move their money out of the investment they will be taxed as partial encashment under HMRC's rules.

Mr Mullaly said: "People are stuck in old-style high cost products because the Revenue say if you move it we will tax it. Old people cannot come out of them because of the amount of tax charged.

"One of the reasons politicians do not deal with this subject is because they do not understand bonds. If they felt like they were losing billions of tax they would do it."

Mr Mullaly added the consumer does not really get a choice in this context, and the Financial Conduct Authority should be applying its treating customers fairly principles to such clients.

Daren O'Brien, director at London-based Aurora Financial Solutions agreed clients may perceive themselves as "trapped".

But he raised a number of reasons which would make it difficult to change the terms on such products.

"If you do encash it early or transfer it early, there might be penalties. My personal opinion is that if you've made a gain on a product that is tax relievable then you should wait until it is tax relievable.

"If you were in a product that was only available at that time, you can't really change the terms. The government do not like to change things retrospectively."

He added that customers are being treated fairly because they can still come out of the product, and although they would have to pay tax on the gains, putting customers in a product they would not pay tax on is "an unlikely scenario".