This week's blog has been penned by Liz Barclay, broadcaster and writer specialising in consumer business issues and personal finance.  She is a communications trainer and coach and works with a variety of businesses in finance, health and public sector as well as other charities.  Liz is also a special advisor on consumer issues to CCA. 

Rarely has the beginning of a new tax year generated such interest.

From the 6th of April (as you probably know given the wall to wall coverage) people 55 and over will have much more choice over what to do with the money in their pension funds. 

Instead of being limited to withdrawing a lump sum and buying an annuity with the rest, they have new ‘pension freedoms’ (don’t forget the Tax!).  

For many an annuity, with a guaranteed income for the rest of their lives, will still be the right option but that’s for the saver to decide; if they prefer to blow the lot on holidays and cars that’s their right too. 

With freedoms come responsibilities. 

The guidance service ‘Pension Wise’ has been set up by the Government to guide people through their options. The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) will deliver guidance over the phone; selected Citizens Advice Bureaux around the country will deliver guidance face to face by appointment (any Bureau can make you an appointment). 

When setting up a service like Pension Wise how do you estimate, or guesstimate, how many people will want to phone or visit?  Where the spikes and troughs in demand will come?  How do you make it clear to people, who for the most part need advice, that the service you are providing is guidance and not advice?  How do you get your referral systems right so that handing over to qualified ‘advisers’ is seamless and people don’t drop out, disappointed not to get all the answers at the first point of contact?  And who carries the can if things go wrong? 

Seasoned customer contact professionals have been grappling with these kinds of questions for years.  There are no easy answers but we do know that a problem shared is a problem halved and sharing best practice and experiences works wonders. 

Joining the CCA’s Customer Engagement Network or Industry Council, or working through CCA Global Standard (we’re on version 6th – the toughest yet), helps everyone in customer service to focus on what really matters to the customers they engage and communicate with. 

Hundreds of thousands of people will be able to take their pensions this year.  As to how many will want to use the guidance service, wild guesses vary from very few to two thirds. 

Pension Wise is standing by to deal with any number of enquiries.  Anecdotal evidence suggests (i.e. anyone I’ve discussed this with!) that people haven’t a clue what guidance is and are really expecting advice. 

The TPAS and Citizens Advice agents will have their work cut out to explain the difference. It’s very important for people’s long term retirement plans that the two organisations get their customer engagement right.  It could make the difference between a good choice that enhances their retirement income and one that proves detrimental – not just this month or the next - but for many years to come.  We wish Pension Wise and their clients well!