James Coney 

Pensions dashboard belongs in cloud cuckoo land

James Coney

James Coney

It was former MP Mark Hoban who first told me about the idea for what has become known as the pensions dashboard.

Mr Hoban, a Department for Work and Pensions minister at the time, had asked me to Portcullis House because the Daily Mail was causing a stir with its annuities campaign – in the days when more or less everyone had to take one out.

As with all great ideas generated by government the dashboard was rooted in a strong set of fine principles: Mr Hoban had seen how similar schemes had worked in Sweden (why is it always the Scandis?) and wanted it to be put in place here. 

The DWP would provide the information on the state pension and then private providers would take it from there.

Surely it is only right that you should be able to see all your pensions in one place? All fine and dandy.

But now the government seems to have booted the dashboard into the long grass, it hasn’t got me overly flustered.

My initial enthusiasm for the idea quickly faded alongside the practicalities of how this would work. The dashboard was fine for modern digital pension schemes. Most defined contribution schemes would cope admirably.

But there was no way smaller pension schemes, older policies, and the vast majority of defined benefit schemes would have been ready. And a partial dashboard was as good as none at all.

What’s the point in seeing how many miles you’ve done if you don’t know what speed you’re going? To get to the final destination successfully you need every bit of information.

Until recently I was the trustee of a company pension scheme – the admin of keeping on top of member requests for pension valuations and the paperwork from employees who had held policies decades before, was an enormous challenge.

I’ve got a few thousand pounds myself sitting in a pension policy from my first employer, a minor newspaper publisher which almost went bust and has since been gobbled up by a muchlarger firm.

Every now and again I make moves to move this cash into another private plan – but getting the information proves so time-consuming I’ve usually lost interest before I get round to doing it.

To think all this information and all the technicalities contained within older pension plans could be easily dropped in to some kind of dashboard is cloud cuckoo land.

Many of the heritage life insurers have seen their policies gobbled up by those willing to buy closed-books of business. You’d need Indiana Jones to pick out these ancient relics from the archives.