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One man's fight to ban pension cold-calling scams

One man's fight to ban pension cold-calling scams

The nationwide lobby for a ban on pension cold calling has come a long way since the original petition was filed by West Yorkshire-based chartered independent financial planner Darren Cooke.

The government is now mulling over the responses to a consultation on banning all unsolicited pension calls – regardless of whether an individual has ‘opted in’ to receiving third party communication – which was unveiled in the last Autumn Statement.

A total of 8,690 individuals including former pension minister Baroness Altmann, her predecessor Sir Steve Webb and Rory Percival, a former technical specialist at the Financial Conduct Authority, are backing the initiative.

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Support from key industry figures, Mr Cooke said, elevated the campaign to a level of prominence that would have been unattainable under his own steam. His petition would have needed to attract 10,000 signatures to receive a response from the government, and 100,000 for it to be considered for debate in parliament.

Consumer champion endorsement

The most telling endorsement was from consumer champion Martin Lewis, Mr Cooke said. The most telling endorsement was from consumer champion Martin Lewis, Mr Cooke said: “I was standing at the side of the pitch watching my son in a football training session when I saw a plethora of notifications on people signing the petition – all because Martin had endorsed us on his Twitter account. He probably generated around 2,000 signatures.”

What many people do not know, according to Mr Cooke, is that a cold-calling ban was close to becoming law through the ‘backdoor’ of the Pension Schemes Bill, which is yet to receive royal assent.

He said: “There are friends of the campaign who are former politicians with knowledge of how Westminster works. The amendment was a result of these friends being a little bit sneaky. Part of it was to force the government’s hand.

“We managed to get it into the bill as an amendment at the House of Lord’s stage, but the government circumvented it by bringing forward its own legislation that would tackle the issue in the near future so we took the amendment out.”

Pension cold calling is rife at present. Research by the Money Advice Service suggests that there could be as many as eight scam calls every second – the equivalent of 250m calls per year.

Citizens Advice has calculated that 10.9m consumers have received unsolicited contact about their pension since April 2015.

Mr Cooke’s decision to set up the petition was prompted by anger after watching a BBC Panorama documentary on pension cold calling. He drew a link between an unscrupulous scheme featured on the programme and one he had encountered and reported to the FCA 18 months before the show’s broadcast.

He said: “I went on Twitter after the show and it turned out that I was not the only person who had reported a similar scheme to the FCA. I thought somebody needed to do something about it and that somebody could be me.”