Labour MPs – including shadow cabinet ministers – have criticised the repeatedly delayed programme, overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions, to create a unified digital platform for accessing financial info
A member of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has asked the National Audit Office to investigate the delays to the government’s £100m project to provide an online platforms through which citizens can view details of all their private and state pensions.
In a letter exclusively shared with PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, Labour MP and PAC member Nick Smith asked NAO comptroller and auditor general Gareth Davies to investigate the delivery and expenditure relating to the Pensions Dashboard programme, which is now expected to be rolled out seven years after the initial industry deadline.
First announced by David Cameron’s Conservative government in the March 2015 Budget, the scheme aims to provide digital interface that would allow people to see all their lifetime pension savings in one place, updated in real time.
In June this year, eight years after the plans were first unveiled, pensions minister Laura Trott announced the scheme would be postponed again by about two years, with pensions schemes now facing a deadline of October 2026 to connect to the dashboards.
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“The impact of these delays is substantial,” Smith wrote in his letter to the NAO. “For one, delays have translated into additional government spending on the programme. Separately, it is estimated that £37bn is lost in forgotten pension pots across the UK. This means around 22% of people have lost track of their pensions, and the Department for Work and Pensions predicts that this problem could grow to as many as 50 million dormant and lost pension pots by 2050. The Pensions Dashboard Programme has the potential to both unlock this money and improve pension literacy across the country. The longer that the programme remains undelivered, the longer the pensions system remains inefficient.”
The latest delay is one in a string of postponements: A working prototype was originally supposed to be ready for spring 2017 and an industry deadline was set for 2019. Despite many pension schemes saying they were ready to feed data into the dashboard by 2020, the programme was then pushed back to 2023, before being delayed again until 2026.
The most recent cost estimate for delivery of the programme – which was calculated in March 2022, before the programme was significantly delayed again – was £93m. During the 2022/23 financial year, the DWP spent £20m on the project,
The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) – created in 2019 as an arm’s-length body of the Department for Work Pensions – is leading the delivery of the programme between the financial years and has so far spent £45.3m on doing so.
In response to a written question, Trott said the dashboard will be made available when the secretary of state for work and pensions is “satisfied that the dashboards ecosystem is ready to support widespread use by the general public” and added that notice will be provided at least six months ahead of the available point.
Smith said that with households struggling with rising costs of living, helping people manage the pensions landscape is more important than ever.
“This is a good idea but blimey, where is the delivery?” he told PoliticsHome. “[The government] should help people and support financial consumers. It’s a good idea and a strong concept which I’m sure there’ll be great demand for. So it’s up to the government to see these things through and they’ve spent an arm and a leg on it. So if they don’t see it through or it’s delayed even further, it will be a waste of public money.”
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, accused the government of “big boastful promises” in relation to the programme.
“Tory ministers made big boastful promises about the Pension Dashboard but instead ministerial incompetence has lumbered savers with delays and cost overrun,” he told PoliticsHome. It’s yet another example of this government badly letting down pension savers. This is an initiative that promised benefits for people preparing for retirement and for the pensions industry – it’s critical that ministers get a grip of it. The next Labour government will provide security in retirement, embracing technology to help us meet our aims.”
In a statement in June, Trott said the Pensions Dashboard programme would require additional time to deliver the “complex” project and enable successful connection of a wide range of different IT systems.
“Pensions dashboards will transform the way in which people plan for retirement,” she said. “The government remains as committed as ever to making pensions dashboards a reality and we are ambitious about their delivery. I am confident that this re-appraised approach will enable us to make significant progress on delivering dashboards safely and securely, enabling consumers to take advantage of their benefits to plan for retirement.”
A DWP spokesperson said the department would not give any further comment on why there had been so many delays to the programme.
This article originally appeared on PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome. Additional reporting by PublicTechnology staff