A High Court judge has today ruled that the legal status of nine so-called liberation vehicles are occupational pension schemes paving the way for The Pensions Regulator to take action.
Pensions liberation allows people to access a portion of their pension or lump sum before the age of 55. However, some practices are fraudulent, misleading people and keeping them ignorant of the fees involved and tax consequences.
In May, City of London Police carried out a series of raids on organisations accused of involvement in liberation schemes. Independent trustees were appointed to administer schemes suspected of involvement in pension liberation fraud. Subsequently, the High Court was asked to determine the legal status of these schemes in light of ambiguities in the documentation.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Morgan defined the schemes using the Pension Scheme Act 1993.
Andrew Warwick-Thompson, TPR's executive director for defined contribution, welcomed the legal clarity provided by the ruling.
He said: '[It will] help inform our wider strategy and enable us to take the appropriate steps to combat activities that could undermine confidence in the pension system.'
The judge ruled that on a literal interpretation of the scheme documents, these schemes were established as occupational pension schemes.
'This means that a number of powers are available to [TPR] in respect of such schemes, and the market should not doubt that we will continue to take action against schemes where there is evidence of misuse of members' pots,' said Warwick-Thompson.
'We have a suite of powers we can use to disrupt pension liberation fraud including suspending and prohibiting trustees, appointing independent trustees to schemes to protect assets, freezing bank accounts and repatriating monies. The actions that we took in relation to these schemes still stand and the independent trustees put in place by us remain appointed,' continued Warwick-Thompson.
He advised the pensions industry to remain vigilant and carry out the necessary due diligence. Looking ahead, the regulator will continue to work with the Department of Work and Pensions to explore where changes to the legislation could help combat pension liberation fraud.
A campaign to raise awareness of the scam among pension professionals and consumers was launched by TPR in February, in partnership with other government, criminal justice and pensions industry bodies.