The Eye looks at Citizens Advice

Satire is the bringing to ridicule of vice, folly and humbug.

So said Ian Hislop in 1995 and few would argue the satirical magazine Private Eye which he has edited since 1986 follows the same philosophy. Vice, folly and humbug are not characteristics that would normally be associated with Citizens Advice and it is therefore surprising to find we have been the target of a recent Private Eye article. Is the Eye playing fair?

Earlier this year the government announced changes to the rules relating to personal pensions. One of the changes will allow people access to their pension funds at the age of fifty-five. Private Eye is opposed to this because it believes that people will be persuaded to invest their pension savings unwisely by unscrupulous providers of financial services. This concern is perhaps not unreasonable given the track record of mis-selling in the financial services industry.

The article attacks Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice’s central organisation for apparently endorsing the changes and by doing so,’ dropping her supposed political independence’. The criticism was leveled at Ms Guy for remarks she made when it was announced that Citizens Advice had been appointed to provide face-to-face pension advice to those affected by the changes. She is quoted as saying that ‘People who have diligently saved year after year towards their retirement deserve to choose how to make the most of their pension pot’ which is on the face of it an endorsement of government policy. So, does the Eye have a point?

Whether or not you agree with the new pension rules the Eye’s description of CAB volunteers in the article as ‘well-meaning but amateur’ is grossly misleading. They help thousands of people every year with complex benefits, debt, housing, consumer and a host of other problems.

Citizens Advice Waverley like every other bureau in the country is an independent charity affiliated to the central organisation headed by Gillian Guy. If each bureau is to be able to continue to provide its local community with information and advice in the face of ever-increasing demands it will require continued guidance and support from Citizens Advice nationally and while this requires leadership it cannot be exercised unilaterally.

Ms Guy and her team will therefore doubtless ensure that every bureau will be consulted regarding any additional training and resources necessary to deliver personal pensions advice. Guidance will also be required on how to avoid recommending financial products to clients so that they can continue to be confident the advice they receive is independent – commercially if not politically.

Over to you Ms Guy.

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