22/11/2006 - Diana Wallis to EMAG
At the AGM of EMAG on 12th October, The EQUI rapporteur, Diana Wallis MEP, gave an outstanding speech about the progress of the Parliament’s Inquiry. EMAG is extremely grateful for her interest and involvement. Read one member’s write-up here - Diana Wallis.
10/11/2006 - PO 2 report WILL affect FOS
An EMAG member has received a letter from the PO’s office confirming that the Inquiry could put into the public domain new evidence concerning the actions of Equitable Life, which in turn could have a bearing on legal claims against the Society and claims lodged with the FOS. This is at odds with the FOS’s current attempts to close claims and refusal to wait for the PO to publish her report claiming that:
“In response to your queries, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous letter to you dated 7 August - that is that we believe that we already have sufficient evidence, relating to the conduct of Equitable Life during the period in question, to be able to reach a decision now on the issue of the disclosure of the GAR-related risks to new policyholders who took out a with-profits policy prior to March 1998. We do not therefore believe that it is appropriate or fair to further delay dealing with such complaints.
I note that you believe that the Parliamentary Ombudsman and/or the European Committee of Inquiry might well make a “finding that ELAS were aware of the problems of investing in the ‘with profits fund’ prior to March 1998”. I cannot speculate on what the outcome of those investigations will be; however, as I have explained in my previous correspondence, those bodies are looking at the role of the government and the regulators rather than at the conduct of Equitable Life itself. “
EMAG suggests that FOS complainants should seek to insist that claims are not dropped until the FOS has had the opportunity to consider any new evidence thrown up by the PO and EU Inquiries in 2007. According to figures recently released to the EU, more than 930 claims are still outstanding.
29/09/2006 - Changes at EMAG
At the board meeting of EMAG Ltd on 19th September, Tom Lake stepped down from being EMAG’s chairman, a position he has held since January 2005, and passed the baton to John Newman FCA,. John has stood as an independent director candidate at the last two ELAS AGMs, only to be defeated by Vanni Treves’ chairman’s proxies. Retired solicitor Nicolas Bellord has been confirmed as the new deputy chairman.
Tom Lake was a founder of EMAG in August 2000 and is EMAG’s longest serving officer. The entire board expressed admiration and thanks to Tom for his excellent stewardship. Both new appointments are welcomed and EMAG’s team remains 10-strong and they give their director services FREE.
03/08/2006 - John Hutton before the PASC
The bedrock of the report by the PASC was the evidence given before the committee by the secretary of state for the DWP, John Hutton, on Wednesday 28th June. The verbatim transcript is now available here.
Hutton’s extraordinary performance prompted Dr Ros Altmann to write a very powerful letter to the Daily Telegraph (1st July). Click here.
03/08/2006 - PASC damns the Government
On 30th July the select committee on Public Administration (PASC), with an impressive Labour MP, Dr Tony Wright, as chair published a bold 130 page evaluation of the government’s refusal to accept the PO’s report into failed occupational pension schemes. It flags the prospect of a constitutional crisis.
"It would be extremely damaging if Government became accustomed simply to reject findings of maladministration, especially if an investigation on this committee proved there was indeed a case to answer. It would raise fundamental constitutional issues about the ombudsman and the relationship between Parliament and the executive,"
Read the full report at here.
The report received extensive sympathetic coverage:
03/08/2006 - Outrage on TODAY
The government’s response to the Public Administration select committee (PASC) report – see item below – provoked an intense debate on Radio 4’s TODAY programme on 2nd August. First, Dr Ros Altmann spoke eloquently. An hour later, the DWP minister for Pensions Reform, James Purnell, defended the government, citing the irrelevant fact that on average 90% of pensions are less than £10,000 pa, and so it is unfair to expect the public purse to pay.
That Purnell interview provoked a wave of outrage, such that on the following day (August 3rd) there was an extensive follow-on item on TODAY, including excellent interviews with the PASC chairman, Dr Tony Wright, sufferer Andrew Parr and some common sense from Frank Field MP.
The items should also be accessible on Radio 4’s website at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/
(6.52am 2nd Aug, 7.55am 2nd August and 7.55am 3rd August)
This debate is vitally important to ELAS victims, since the constitutional battle being fought here by the PASC for respecting the office of the PO, the High Court of Parliament, will set the ground for receipt of PO 2 late in 2006 - which we can anticipate will be resistant equally robustly by Gordon Brown, who has studiously avoided ever commenting on either the OP claim for compensation or that of ELAS victims. This is therefore our fight too.
09/06/2006 - The ELAS board election
The results of the ELAS AGM voting are available on the Equitable’s own website. The reporting of the figures is to be deplored. For the first time, proxy votes have NOT been separately reported. The reason for this is that if the chairman’s proxy votes are excluded, then EMAG’s deputy chairman John Newman FCA actually polled tens of thousands more net positive votes than Charles Thomson. Chairman Vanni Treves cast of the order of 100,00 votes FOR Mr Thomson and 100,000 against John Newman, thus preserving the status quo. You couldn’t make it up
09/06/2006 - SelCom on the PO on OP
There are two sessions scheduled. On the morning of Thursday 22nd June Dr Wright’s committee will interview Dr Ros Altmann and Lord Turner. On the afternoon of Wednesday 28th June, the secretary of state for the DWP, John Hutton, will be giving evidence.
Note that the three Early Day Motions (EDMs) pressing the Government to do the honourable thing have now been signed by 260 MPs. 90 of them are Labour. Indeed, five Labour MPs have signed not only the Labour one (EDM 1868) but also the Lib Dem one (EDM 1893). Theses honourable supporters are: Ann Cryer, Bill Etherington, Frank Field, Paul Flynn and Alan Simpson. If one of them happens to be your MP, please congratulate them!
09/06/2006 - PO on OP. The DWPs self-justification.
On 6th June the DWP published an account of why it has rejected out of hand the PO’s report. It’s a disappointing document. Download it and look, in particular, at page 46.
That chart makes clear that the cost in real terms of addressing the plight would not exceed £100m in any one year and the cost in today’s pounds is NOT as minister Hodge claimed £15 bn but circa £3b. The press DID finally report this gross mis-claim by the government.
- See James Daley in The Independent 7th June
- And Daily Mail 7th June.
18/05/2006 - The ELAS AGM
The ELAS AGM was true to form, a long, stormy and carping affair. It took a full three hours, There was repeated anxiety expressed about when cuts to with profits annuities would cease. The theme of bitter recriminations for wasting policyholders’ funds of failed litigation was raised over and over again. The most comprehensive broadside came from independent candidate, John Newman, who analysed the true cost of the annuities being disposed of to Canada Life. Read Mr Newman’s speech.
Read coverage in the media of the AGM.
12/05/2006 - Equitable to transfer 130,000 fixed and index linked annuities to Canada Life
With the usual fanfare, Equitable announced that it was off-loading the annuities that are NOT part of the with-profits fund. This was anticipated in the Burgess Hodgson report (see link above). Apparently, no money is to change hands. Interesting to note that these contracts, many of them ex-GAR are to find safe haven whilst all those without GARs remaining in the with-profits fund are STILL bearing ongoing contingent risk. Vanni Treves admitted that there is NO current sales negotiations for the WP fund.
It remains to be revealed what are the cost consequences to the contract with Halifax/HBOS, in place until 2011, and whether there are arduous indemnities. The actual transfer is subject to approval by voting members and the court and this will take many months. The timing of the ELAS announcement is ‘opportune’ and may be designed to deflect the criticism that is anticipated at the ELAS AGM on 17 May, when John Newman is expected too make a blistering attack on Vanni Treves’ “Wasted Years”.
Several helpful press articles on 12 May:
Daily Mail: Paul Braithwaite of EMAG said: “Vanni Treves is a perennial dream-peddler. Members should treat with great caution his tales of success, as we have learned in the past.”
03/05/2006 - The PO, Dr Ros Altmann and the OP
Ann Abraham was due to appear before Dr Tony Wright’s select committee on the afternoon on 2nd May. The transcript will be posted here asap. No date has yet been announced for the Secretary of State, John Hutton, to appear before this committee. More than 230 MPs have signed the three EDMs, including almost 100 Labour MPs, in defiance of the government
Meanwhile, Dr Altmann has appointed Bindman & Partners as legal advisors. EMAG has worked with Bindmans for three years. And comment on an item in Private Eye about Government hypocrisy:
By chance, Dr Altmann was appearing before the Petitions Committee in the Brussels Parliament at exactly the same time on 25th April as the Equitable evidence session (see Stop Press - rths). The ELAS witnesses met briefly Dr Altmann afterwards in the very good value Parliament’s canteen!
And comment on an item in Private Eye about Government hypocrisy:
21/04/2006 - The ELAS AGM 17th May
The annual report and accounts and voting pack has now been distributed to members. A letter therein makes disparaging remarks about EMAG’s deputy chairman, John Newman FCA, who is standing for election. This indicates the degree of concern in the ELAS board that, for the first time, there is a real possibility that John may become ELAS’s first independently selected director.
EMAG encourages ELAS voting members to vote FOR John Newman and AGAINST Charles Thomson and, by way of protest, also against Messers Adams and Threadgold. EMAG suggests as an alternative to Vanni Treves that members fill in the reverse of the form, sign and write in the name of Paul Braithwaite of 42 Bartholomew Villas, London NW5 2LL as proxy. So often, in the past, a very high proportion of voting members have opened the door to Vanni Treves exercising hundreds of thousands of proxy votes that have been left blank.
John Newman has summarised what he is standing FOR. Further, he has provided answers to an extended Q & A.
07/04/2006 - Update on PO on OP
Dr Ros Altmann, for the Occupational Pensions (OP) complainants has issued a robust rebuttal of 15 different government claims and aspersions.
Note that said Margaret Hodge MP is the minister for the DWP so for her to have said, as she did, that it would mean 6p on income tax is OUTRAGEOUS.
The select committee on Public Administration is seeking to require the Secretary of State, John Hutton, to appear before it on Tuesday 2nd May.
31/03/2006 - MPs
In the past month, EMAG directors have met in Westminster more than half a dozen opposition MPs who had agreed to be briefed about ELAS. What is striking in this new Parliament is the very low level of awareness of the Equitable debacle and its causes. To this end, EMAG intends to produce a single sided summary for policyholders to include with letters to MPs.
31/03/2006 - Charles Thomson attacked
Both the Mail on Sunday and the Scottish paper of the same name had it in for Charles Thomson in their editions on 26th March.
Jeff Prestridge, personal finance editor, suggested that ELAS members may consider voting against Thomson and instead vote for EMAG’s deputy chairman. Interestingly, the new accounts for 2005 state that two non-execs of ELAS will soon be standing down. Under the circumstances, why can’t the board endorse John Newman’s candidature, given he has so amply demonstrated his commitment to policyholders?
See the Mail articles.
31/03/2006 - PO on OP
After the outcry in the press about the Government’s refusal to accept or to act on the PO’s report on Occupational Pensions there has been little progress. Interesting, isn’t it, that in 1989 Gordon Brown clamoured to insist the PO report into Barlow Clowes be honoured, yet he has said not one word on this or ELAS? In 1989, the then Tory Government rejected the PO’s report BUT it did pay out full compensation without agreeing culpability by the DTI.
As yet, there’s no Commons debate tabled. It is understood that the select committee on Public Administration will take evidence from the PO and the Secretary of State for the DWP on Thursday 4th May. Meanwhile, each of the three parties has laid down its own Early Day Motion. Predictably, MPs won’t sign the other parties motions. Most significant for ELAS is that 44 Labour MPs to date HAVE supported the EDM proposing paying out on the PO from unclaimed bank assets. These MPs names should be noted, to be approached on publication of PO 2 for Labour party support for ELAS, should PO 2 report in favour of complainants. To date Labour MPs have been zip-lipped on Equitable. See who the sympathetic Labour MPs are here.
PS: On 27th March the MOD announced a limited climb-down in agreeing now to pay 500 more of the non-British internees by Japan in WWII, providing they can demonstrate 20 years UK residency! Why can’t the UK Government do the decent thing over “Debt of Honour” and just pay up?
31/03/2006 - ELAS research
Market research is being conducted on behalf of ELAS with a random selected sample of policyholders, presumably to be reported to the AGM on 17th May in London.
Questions asked included: "Would you approve of the Company being sold if it would give a better return?". It's hard to imagine that less than nine out of ten will say YES to that but it would tell a far from complete story. At the CONpromise in January 2002 voting members were offered, similarly, the prospect of much improved returns but it didn’t happen. And what if the price of being taken over is a dowry? There’s only one place that could come from – the policyholders.
Interestingly, respondents are also being asked for opinions on a good to bad scale on ALL the directors, one by one. Perhaps what's behind that is to seek to measure support levels Vanni Treves and Charles Thomson, post the losses of £50m over the failed litigation debacle?
15/03/2006 - PO reports on OPs
You may wonder why this is important. The answer is, it REALLY is important! This report by the PO is a highly relevant precedent for the PO 2 study into Equitable, recently delayed until the autumn. That the government has dismissed the new PO’s report totally out of hand is astonishing. Read the 10-page summary here (PDF) and the full 250-page report as a PDF download from the Ombudman’s site here.
There has been a very dramatic response from the serious press, with universal condemnation of the government’s response. EMAG has assembled URLs and salient quotes from 20 of the best of them, which make salutary reading. The select committee on Public Administration, under the chairmanship of Dr Tony Wright, has announced that it will require the new minister for the Department of Works and Pensions, Philip Hammond to appear and explain. Mr Hammond is the Labour’s seventh minister for DWP.
27/02/2006 - EMAG study of alternatives for the future of ELAS
EMAG commissioned chartered accountants Burgess Hodgson to prepare an independent evaluation of all ELAS’s future options, to help members take an informed decision when they are presented with a recommendation by the ELAS board. Click here to read the report online or here to download as a pdf file.
The report was reported exclusively in the Times on 11th February:
"Equitable told not to rush sell-off
EMAG members want answers to questions raised in the report, such as:
- Could a deal be reached to phase out the GIRs?
- Could a similar deal allow with-profits pensioners to be switched into conventional annuities?
- Could the society switch some of its money back into equities?"
Mark Atherton, The Times, 11 February, 2006
27/02/2006 - Background to the PO 2 report’s delay
In late January the PO Investigation team invited EMAG to an urgent meeting. Seven members of EMAG’s board attended. We learned that that the PO’s investigation has revealed vital new evidence not accessible to the general public that is of such significance that it should be incorporated. The meeting was followed up with a letter from the office of the PO on 9th February. Tom Lake, EMAG’s chairman, replied on 16th February with a formal request that the Investigation be broadened.
Subsequently, on 24th February, Ann Abraham has written to all MPs to inform them of the delay.
EMAG is continuing to work constructively with the PO 2 investigation and, to that end, is currently preparing a further submission. It is EMAG’s expectation that the PO 2 report will not now be published before October, 2006.
30/01/2006 - EMAG wrote to all MPs
On 16 January EMAG wrote a letter to every UK MP to bring them up to date on matters Equitable, to alert them to the EU Committee and to urge them to insist that any and all recommendations resulting from the Investigation by the Parliamentary Ombudsman (PO 2) should be honoured.
Click here to read EMAG’s letter.