HC Deb 20 October 2003 vol 411 cc371-2
13. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

If he will make a statement on the take-up of stakeholder pensions. [132613]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

Over 1.5 million stakeholder pensions have been sold since their introduction in April 2001—over 500,000 in the last 12 months for which figures are available. That is an encouraging start and a sign that stakeholder pensions are a valuable option for many.

Gregory Barker

I thank the Minister for that answer, but since the launch of stakeholder pensions they have been targeted specifically on the about 5 million lower-income earners who have no other form of occupational pension. Of the figure quoted, how many are from that target group—with no form of occupational pension—as opposed to people just transferring provision from elsewhere? What does she believe to be the acceptable de minimis in respect of take-up from that target group before the policy can be judged a success?

Maria Eagle

As the hon. Gentleman must realise, stakeholder pensions provide a flexible and low-cost option for those who had no such option before their introduction. They are also portable.

Financial Services Authority figures show that 70 per cent. of stakeholder pension sales are to those earning less than £30,000 a year, and 46 per cent. to those earning less than £20,000. The hon. Gentleman suggested that such pensions were for grandchildren. Figures from the Association of British Insurers indicate that 97 per cent. of sales are to people of working age—although I do not understand why Opposition Members should object to grandparents' buying their grandchildren pensions if they wish to do so. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Does the Minister agree that if there is to be maximum confidence in stakeholder pensions there must be a fair and efficient system for resolving disputes? Can she explain the current crisis in the pension ombudsman system? It is taking more than a year for a file even to be opened when disputes arise. Will she investigate, and suggest some solutions?

Maria Eagle

I will think about what the hon. Gentleman has said. I understand that we are discussing with the ombudsman the resources that he needs in order to deal with the matter. If I have anything further to say to him, I will write to him separately.