Pensioners left fuming as Phoenix fails to rise to challenge

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Planning for retirement can be a fraught period, particularly in terms of timing.

For those with a private pension, it is important that their income flow is not interrupted. They rightly rely on those companies they have entrusted over the years with their money to be efficient.

If they ask for up to date values from their pension provider and any relevant information, such as whether policies come with guaranteed rates for annuities, they expect an accurate and prompt response.

Often such requests are made by specialist brokers on their behalf.

Such professionals are trying to match provider replies to the best annuity available.

Timing can be tight as both the pension pot value and the annuity offer can keep moving.

Step forward Phoenix which is a group of pension providers.

It is not a mutual acting solely in the best interests of policyholders but is quoted on the FTSE 250 and therefore seeks growth and good dividends for its shareholders.

Policyholders have found their money diverted to Pearl, which changed its name to Phoenix in 2010. They were not given any choice and their opinion was not sought.

It is now the UK’s largest closed life funds group, having swallowed up such big names as Alba Life, Britannic Assurance, NPI, Scottish Mutual, Scottish Provident and Swiss Life (UK). Phoenix manages £72.1bn and increased profits to £387m last year.

Sadly, however, its six million policyholders are not well served.

When an individual or intermediary makes enquires, instead of answering the questions, it issues generic policy information. It does not say if queries will be ignored or followed-up.

This causes further communication delays whilst the enquirer seeks clarification. It’s vital, for instance, that a policyholder knows if there is a guaranteed annuity available, which occurs in 20 per cent of Phoenix’s policies.

In a recent example, it took almost eight weeks to answer properly.

There is a voluntary monitoring scheme on transfer times but no body with teeth to handle excessive delays.

Ticked off, Phoenix now intends to amend its ways. The jury is out.

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