Concerns remain over govt support for dashboard after McVey’s statement

Stephanie Baxter writes

The government’s announcement that it will support the industry in delivering the pensions dashboard has been met with mixed reaction, after months of uncertainty about the project’s future.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey yesterday backed the industry to deliver the pensions dashboard, following reports in July that she was set to kill off government support for the project.

Some commentators embraced McVey’s statement, in which she said “industry can develop a dashboard that works for pensions holders – and government will help facilitate this”.

However, others said the government seems to be stepping back from the project, leaving it solely up to the industry to deliver the dashboard, which is due to launch in April 2019.

The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association’s (PLSA) director of policy and research Nigel Peaple said that, while he welcomed the secretary of state’s statement, “it’s absolutely vital the government does not leave this solely to the industry and remains closely involved.”

“The PLSA has long said that government participation is essential to the success of this project, both to give the public confidence in the tool and to ensure all parts of the pension sector and other key stakeholders are fully involved. We now eagerly await the publication of the feasibility study to understand the detail behind the government’s involvement and next steps.”

The feasibility study, which will look at whether compulsion is needed and if there should be a single or multiple dashboards, has still not been published despite being due in March.

One of the main reasons the government’s involvement is believed necessary is so it can legislate to compel all schemes and the state to provide pensions data when asked.

Aegon head of pensions Kate Smith warned that, without this, the pension dashboard “risks being half-baked”.

“For the time being we remain cautiously optimistic that government support continues and await the publication of the feasibility study which is key to the industry being able to move forward with developing the dashboard initiative.”

Meanwhile, shadow pensions minister Jack Dromey called it a “cop-out” by the government, and added:

“Passing it onto the private sector means there is no guarantee of compliance from all providers, no indication of whether the state pension will be included and centralises huge amounts of financial information for the private sector to access.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman for work and pensions and MP for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd, said “continuous mixed signals” from the Department for Work and Pensions is confusing for the industry and savers, and that yesterday’s statement shows a “lack of leadership from the government”.

“Only the government can legislate to compel private companies to provide information to the dashboard, making it a robust, comprehensive platform. Giving this task to the industry itself offers no guarantee of compliance.”

Also warning that, without the government’s lead, the dashboard will not become a one-stop shop, The People’s Pension called for the upcoming Single Financial Guidance Body (SFGB) to take over.

The master trust’s director of policy Gregg McClymont said: “If the government is determined to hand over responsibility, then the SFGB is the obvious home to ensure accuracy of data and governance.”

However, others were more positive, with Royal London director of policy Sir Steve Webb calling the statement a “huge breakthrough” after a period of certainty, and adding:

“Backed by this renewed commitment by the government, the whole pension industry now needs to work together to drive forward this much-needed initiative.”

Origo managing director Anthony Rafferty, whose firm has been heavily involved in the project’s development, said McVey’s announcement is “more a holding statement while we await the feasibility study”, and did not see it as a step change.

“It has always been envisaged that industry would need to take on board the operation of the dashboard, with government ‘facilitating’ in respect of governance and legislation.”