Mis-Sold SIPPs: What Recourse Do You Have?

Signs include being advised to invest in high-risk areas without a proper risk assessment or not being informed about fees and charges. Recognizing these can safeguard your retirement planning.
  • Last Updated: 22 Mar 2024
  • Fact Checked
  • Our team recently fact checked this article for accuracy. However, things do change, so please do your own research.

Contributors:

Francis Hui
Unsure What to Look Out For? Read Our Comprehensive Guide on How to Protect Yourself.
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Key Takeaways
  • Mis-sold SIPPs are personal pensions sold by financial advisors that may not have been the most suitable option, and they can be identified if the risks were not fully explained or if you were pressured into investing.
  • If you believe you were mis-sold a SIPP, the first steps should involve gathering all relevant documents, contacting the financial advisor or firm who sold it to you, and then potentially contacting the Financial Ombudsman Service if you’re not satisfied with the firm’s response.
  • To claim compensation, you generally need to lodge a formal complaint with the firm that sold the product to you, and if unsatisfied with their response, you can escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Pension Ombudsman.
  • The process for reporting involves compiling evidence, notifying the company or advisor who sold you the product, and if necessary, escalating your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Pensions Ombudsman.
  • In the UK, the financial advisor or firm who sold you the SIPP is liable for mis-sold products, and if they are no longer trading, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme may provide compensation.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of mis-sold SIPPs is to learn to recognise one when you see one.

Unfortunately, investors have not always spotted the warning signs in time.

According to Claims Compass, an estimated £10 billion in SIPPs was mis-sold in the UK in 2019.1

Below, our expert team shows you what to look out for, how to find out if you have been mis-sold a SIPP, and, most importantly, how to fight back.

In This Article, You Will Discover:

    At Every Investor, we aim to bring you the most accurate, up-to-date, and useful information on retirement finance, which is why all our content undergoes extensive quality and compliance checks before publication. 

    Read on to find out what you should know about mis-sold SIPPs.

    What Is a SIPP?

    A SIPP, or Self-Invested Personal Pension, is a type of personal pension plan in the United Kingdom.

    It empowers individuals to have greater control and flexibility over their retirement savings by allowing them to choose from a wide range of investment options, including stocks, bonds, and other assets.

    SIPPs offer a self-directed approach to managing pension funds, providing individuals with the opportunity to tailor their investments according to their financial goals and risk preferences.

    What Are the Steps to Take If I’ve Been Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    Firstly, if you’ve been mis-sold a Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP), it’s crucial to identify the mis-selling signs. Did the financial advisor fail to consider your financial situation or risk tolerance? Were you not informed about the risks, or were the charges undisclosed?

    A clear understanding is the step one in a mis-sold SIPP claim. Once you’re certain of mis-selling, lodge an official complaint with the company involved. Ask for a detailed explanation, and if you’re not satisfied with their response, escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

    You may also consider seeking legal advice or assistance from a reputable claims management company. Remember, diligence and patience are key when dealing with mis-sold SIPPs.

    What Are Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    Mis-sold SIPPs, or Self-Invested Personal Pensions, are pension plans that have been improperly sold or misrepresented to investors, resulting in financial losses and potential hardships for pensioners. 

    SIPPs were introduced in 1989 and offer individuals more control over their pension funds by allowing them to invest in a wider range of assets than other pension options might.2 

    These products became significantly more popular after the 2014 pension reforms, but there has been concern about the issue of misselling since long before that.3

    Note

    SIPPs are not inherently unsuitable products; however, they have been prone to abuse by various entities in the past. 

    Pensions Scandal of the 1980s & 1990s

    The 1980s and 1990s saw a wave of pensions misselling, where individuals were persuaded to opt out of their occupational pension schemes and transfer into personal pensions.4

    These transfers often involved high-pressure sales tactics and misleading information, and resulted in individuals losing valuable benefits and suffering financial losses in the long run.5

    British Steel Pension Scheme Scandal of the 2010s

    The British Steel Pension Scheme scandal was one of the most prominent cases of SIPP mis-selling of recent years.6 

    British Steel workers were targeted by financial advisors who persuaded them to transfer their pension funds into risky investments.7 

    What happened?

    Workers lost substantial amounts of their pension savings; according to a 2022 BBC report, those who had submitted legal claims up to that point had lost a collective £55,3 million.

    How To Identify Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    Identifying mis-sold SIPPs is an important part of your financial preparation for retirement. 

    Watch out for pressure selling tactics, promises of unrealistically high returns, and investments that do not align with your risk appetite or financial goals. 

    In this section, we unpack some of the signs to look out for when trying to spot a mis-sold SIPP.

    High-Pressure Sales Tactics

    Be cautious of advisors who use aggressive or persistent sales techniques to push you into making quick investment decisions.

    Unrealistic Promises of High Returns

    Be sceptical of investment opportunities that promise unrealistically high returns with low or no risk. 

    If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

    Investments Not Aligned With Your Goals

    If an advisor recommends investments that do not align with your financial goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon, you should view this as a red flag. 

    Which Companies & Individuals Have Been Involved in Mis-Selling SIPPs?

    The companies and individuals that have been involved in misselling SIPPs in the UK include a variety of firms and advisors. 

    Avalon

    Avalon Investment Services Ltd was a SIPP pension operator that was dissolved in 2018 after having been bought by the Embark Group.8 

    Client funds had been placed in high-risk, illiquid investments,9 and many clients were left in financial distress because of failed investments in entities like HJ Commercial Plc and Ukrainian Property Fund.10

    By 2019, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) started investigating Avalon for potential due diligence failures concerning these investments, and in 2020, Avalon was declared ‘in default,’ signifying its inability to settle compensation claims, thus enabling former clients to seek compensation for their losses.11

    Multicorp Rose

    Multicorp Rose, an advisory firm previously recommending Avalon SIPPs, entered liquidation in 2019 following its involvement with unauthorised ‘pension introducer firms’ and subsequent regulatory investigations.12 

    The FSCS is currently managing claims associated with Avalon’s conduct. 

    What does that mean?

    If you can prove Avalon failed in its due diligence, you might qualify for compensation.

    Gaudi Limited

    Gaudi Regulated Services Limited, founded in 2008 and known for managing multi-million accounts, primarily dealt in SIPPs and had connections with firms like Beaufort Securities and Greyfriars Asset Management, which were, respectively, placed under insolvency and sanctioned by the FCA.13 

    Gaudi faced numerous rulings against it by the Financial Ombudsman Service regarding the specific investments within its SIPPs.14 

    In light of these rulings and their financial implications, Gaudi declared insolvency and was placed into administration by the FCA in 2023, with its pension division taken over by Platform One Limited.15 

    This shift allowed Gaudi’s clients to maintain their SIPPs as usual. 

    The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) is currently processing claims concerning Gaudi to assess eligibility for compensation. 

    The FSCS also continues to assess any separate claims against authorised entities related to investments in a Gaudi SIPP.

    Avacade Limited & Alexandra Associates

    In 2020, Alexandra Associates, trading as Avacade Future Solutions, were found to have ‘made misleading statements’ when advising clients to move their money to SIPPs.16 

    This finding was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2021.17

    What happened?

    Client funds were invested in alternatives like HotPods (rentable office spaces), tree farms, and Brazilian property projects; over 2,000 customers moved roughly £91.8m from their pensions into SIPPs.18

    Around £68m was channelled into products pushed by Avacade and AA and £905,000 found its way into a fixed-rate bond for a Brazilian property project, and from these ventures, Avacade and AA raked in around £10.8m in commissions.19

    Unfortunately, many of these investments have collapsed or are currently in liquidation.

    How was it stopped?

    The FCA lodged a petition and in August 2020, the High Court ordered Avacade, AA, Craig Lummis, Lee Lummis, and Raymond Fox to pay restitution to the value of £10,715,000.20 

    What does that mean for me?

    If you are an Avacade/AA client who suspects a loss, be sure to reach out to the FCA and provide them with your details. 

    Harlequin Management Services (South East) Limited & David Ames

    Harlequin Management Services were at the centre of significant concerns and controversies within the financial industry, specifically relating to SIPP investments in resort properties.21 

    David Ames, a former window salesman and sole director of the now-liquidated Harlequin Management Services, pitched the company as a luxury Caribbean property developer, and investors, many of them novice and elderly SIPP holders, poured funds into what they believed would be their dream retirement homes.22

    Despite selling about 9,000 units, Ames only started construction on two sites, completing no more than 200 properties at Buccament Bay.23 

    Ames accumulated wealth totalling £6,2 million for himself and his family, doling out monthly payments of £10,000 to his wife and son.24

    Misusing his chairmanship role at Harlequin, Ames exposed over 8,000 investors to substantial financial risk between 2010 and 2015.

    In response 

    UK financial authorities had issued warnings to financial advisers about exercising special caution regarding pension investments in Harlequin.25

    Following a thorough SFO (Serious Fraud Office) investigation, Ames was sentenced in August 2022 to 12 years’ imprisonment and a 15-year directorship ban for heading the £226 million scheme.26

    SFO director Lisa Osofsky stated, “The conviction was achieved after extensive analysis of documents, tracing of 8,000 investor deposits, and testimony from 25+ witnesses.”

    Caledonian International Associates 

    Caledonian International Associates, the trading name of MMG Associates, participated in Armed Forces pension transfers, despite lacking authorisation to provide pensions advice.27

    From 2012 to 2013, David Clark introduced over 500 clients to Carey Pensions UK, transitioning them from their Armed Forces Pensions Scheme (AFPS) to a SIPP with Carey’s.28

    However, AFPS, with its guaranteed income and lower costs compared to SIPPs, is generally a better choice for most members.

    Most regulated financial advisers would not have suggested a transfer from a defined benefit pension scheme like the AFPS unless it was to the client’s advantage.

    Schemes like AFPS are prized for their benefits, including a guaranteed income, and they do not carry the same costs as private arrangements like SIPPs. 

    What does that mean?

    Transferring would often expose members to risks that were incompatible with their needs. 

    If regulated firms or individuals played a role in such pension transfers and breached FCA regulations, claims can be made. 

    Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre

    Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre Ltd was an independent financial advisory firm implicated in the British Steel Pension Scheme scandal.29

    PMC exploited Tata Steel’s 2016 decision to offload its UK business.30

    The firm advised numerous steelworkers to switch their defined benefit pensions into high-risk investments and SIPP products, resulting in lost accrued benefits. 

    In December 2017, Pembrokeshire, together with nine others, agreed to cease transfer work under an arrangement with the FSCS. 

    The FSCS officially declared the firm in default in January 2021.31

    The FCA revealed that the firm generated £2,1 million in fees from DB pension transfers from June 2015 to December 2017. 

    As of August 2022, the FSCS had affirmed nearly 200 pension transfer complaints against the firm, leading to nearly £13 million in payouts.32

    The FSCS is currently handling all the claims against the defunct firm. 

    Aiden Henderson, Andrew Page, & Thomas Ward

    Independent financial advisers Aiden Henderson, Andrew Page, and director Thomas Ward were involved in a mis-selling scandal that cost investors over £44 million.33

    This misconduct occurred between 2014 and 2015 at Henderson Carter Associates and Financial Page, where Ward illegally held directorship.34

    In 2022, the FCA barred the three from the financial sector and imposed fines. They are also prohibited from director roles without court approval for 10 years by The Insolvency Service.35

    These individuals advised clients to transfer pensions into SIPPs, without adequately explaining the high-risk nature of investments in Mauritius, which were not under UK regulation.

    Their firms, in collaboration with Hennessy Jones, had significant stakes in the SIPPs. 

    Following liquidation in 2017, the FSCS paid £44,1m in compensation, but some investors experienced considerable losses due to claim caps.36

    With this case in mind, Rob Clarke, chief investigator at the Insolvency Service, emphasised how important it is for financial advisors to explain the financial risks involved when making investments. 

    Terence Wright

    Terence Wright was a director at TPS Land, an unregulated firm in Spain.37 

    The company led a network tied to mis-sold SIPP pension claims, and it included entities like CL&P Brokers.

    TPS Land did not have FCA approval, but it still convinced many UK pension holders to risk their savings in SIPPs.38

    The FSA had been watching Wright since 2010, and warned him to stop giving unauthorised investment advice.39 

    The FSA indicated Wright might target UK clients via Cash in Your Pension.

    In 2019, Wright’s name resurfaced in a court case that involved SIPP provider Carey Pensions and a driver, Russell Adams. 

    Wright had introduced Adams to a risky SIPP investment in Storefirst and Australian farmland.40 

    Adams claimed Carey Pensions mis-sold him a SIPP through CL&P which resulted in worthless investments in Store First. 

    Carey Pensions initially won in 2020, however, the verdict was reversed in 2021.

    The reversal allowed Adams to invalidate the SIPP agreement due to CL&P’s involvement. 

    As a result, Adams could recoup his investment and claim compensation for his losses.

    What Role Do SIPP Providers & Advisors Play?

    SIPP providers and advisors play a crucial role in the management and advice of Self-Invested Personal Pensions. 

    Things to keep in mind: 

    • Responsibilities & Duties: SIPP providers are responsible for offering a range of investment options and administering the pension scheme. Advisors, on the other hand, have a duty to assess the investor’s financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment knowledge, and provide suitable recommendations accordingly. They must act honestly, fairly, and professionally, ensuring that the investments align with the client’s objectives and risk appetite.
    • Potential Negligence or Misconduct: Instances of negligence or misconduct can occur in the SIPP industry. Some providers and advisors may fail to conduct proper due diligence on investment opportunities, recommend unsuitable products, or fail to disclose risks adequately. This can result in significant financial losses for investors.
    • Assessing Provider & Advisor Involvement: When assessing the involvement of SIPP providers and advisors, it is essential to consider individual cases, gather evidence of negligence or misconduct, and consult legal professionals. The Ombudsman or the FSCS can assist in determining whether the provider or advisor breached their responsibilities.

    What Is The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)?

    The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the regulatory body overseeing financial services in the UK. 

    It plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the SIPP industry and protecting investors’ interests.

    FCA Regulations & Guidelines

    The FCA establishes regulations and guidelines that SIPP providers and advisors must adhere to. 

    These include requirements for suitability assessments, risk disclosures, and treating customers fairly. 

    Compliance with these regulations is crucial to ensure investor protection.

    FCA Investigations & Enforcement Actions

    The FCA conducts investigations to identify instances of mis-selling and regulatory breaches within the SIPP sector. 

    If misconduct is found, the FCA can take enforcement actions, including fines, suspensions, or bans on individuals or firms involved.

    Regulatory Implications When SIPPs Are Mis-Sold 

    The FCA’s actions against providers and advisors involved in mis-selling SIPPs can have significant implications. 

    It helps protect investors, raises awareness of potential risks, and holds accountable those responsible for negligence or misconduct.

    How Does Compensation for Mis-Sold SIPPs Work?

    Compensation for mis-sold SIPPs may be available to investors who bought SIPPs after receiving misleading advice.41

    Compensation aims to restore the investor to the position they would have been in had the mis-selling not occurred.

    Compensation Criteria

    To claim compensation, individuals must demonstrate that they received unsuitable advice, suffered financial loss as a result, and that the provider or advisor was negligent or in breach of their duties. 

    Each case is assessed individually, taking into account the specific circumstances and evidence presented.

    Calculating Potential Compensation

    The calculation of potential compensation takes into account the financial loss suffered by the investor. 

    This includes the initial investment, any investment returns lost, and any additional costs or fees incurred as a result of the mis-sold SIPP.

    Compensation Limitations

    There may be limitations to the amount of compensation an investor can receive. 

    The Financial Services Compensation Scheme sets compensation limits, which may vary depending on the nature of the claim and the circumstances involved.42

    How To Make a Mis-Sold SIPP Claim?

    If you believe you have been a victim of a mis-sold SIPP, it is important to understand the process of making a claim and the available options for seeking resolution.

    Gathering Evidence When Suspecting Your SIPP Was Mis-Sold

    If you suspect that you have been mis-sold a SIPP, gather all relevant evidence and documentation. 

    Keep records of conversations, statements, and any correspondence with your financial adviser or SIPP provider. 

    These records will be crucial in establishing a case and seeking compensation. 

    Experts stress the importance of documenting everything to build a strong claim.

    Complaints Process

    Start by submitting a complaint to the SIPP provider or advisor involved in the mis-selling. 

    They are obliged to investigate and respond to your complaint in a timely manner. 

    Make sure to provide all relevant details and supporting documentation to strengthen your case.

    Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)

    If you are not satisfied with the response from the provider or advisor, you can escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). 

    The FOS is an independent body that mediates disputes between consumers and financial institutions. 

    They will review your case and provide a fair and impartial decision.

    Time Limits & Deadlines

    It is crucial to be aware of the time limits for making a mis-selling claim. 

    Generally speaking 

    You have six years from the date of the advice or knowledge of the mis-selling, or three years from when you reasonably became aware of it, to make a claim.43 

    However, these time limits can vary, so it’s important to seek advice promptly.

    How To Seek Professional Help?

    Engaging the services of professionals experienced in mis-sold SIPP claims can significantly enhance your chances of success. 

    They can guide you through the claims process, provide expert advice, and handle negotiations on your behalf.

    Mis-Sold SIPP Claims Specialists

    Mis-sold SIPP claims specialists are professionals who specialise in assisting individuals with mis-selling claims. 

    They have in-depth knowledge of the process and can provide tailored guidance to help you navigate through the complexities of your claim.

    Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs)

    Consulting an independent financial advisor (IFA) can also be beneficial. 

    An IFA can review your situation, assess your claim’s merits, and provide independent advice on the best course of action. 

    They can also help you find suitable alternative investment options, if necessary.

    Legal Representation

    In certain cases, legal representation may be necessary, particularly when dealing with complex or high-value claims. 

    Solicitors specialising in financial mis-selling can provide legal expertise, gather evidence, and represent your interests throughout the claims process.

    How To Prevent Future Mis-Selling?

    Preventing future mis-selling is crucial to protect investors and maintain the integrity of financial markets. 

    There are several key strategies to help prevent future instances of mis-selling:

    • Consumer Education & Awareness: Increasing consumer education and awareness is vital to prevent future mis-selling. Take the initiative to educate yourself about financial products, risks, and regulatory guidelines, and always stay informed and ask questions before making any investment decisions.
    • Advisor & Provider Due Diligence: Before engaging with a SIPP provider or advisor, conduct thorough due diligence. Check their credentials, reviews, and any past complaints. Look for professionals who are regulated by the FCA and adhere to industry best practices.
    • Regulatory Enhancements: Regulatory bodies such as the FCA continuously work to enhance regulations and improve investor protection. Support regulatory efforts by staying informed about changes, providing feedback, and participating in consultations to ensure a robust regulatory framework.
    • Stricter Compliance Monitoring: Implement robust compliance monitoring processes to ensure that SIPP providers and advisors adhere to regulatory guidelines and industry best practices. Regular audits, inspections, and assessments can help identify potential misconduct and take appropriate action promptly. 
    • Professional Standards & Qualifications: Establish and promote high professional standards and qualifications for SIPP providers and advisors. Encouraging ongoing professional development, adherence to a code of conduct, and membership in professional bodies can help raise the overall quality and integrity of the industry.
    • Whistleblower Protection: Create a safe environment for individuals to report instances of mis-selling and misconduct. Implement whistleblower protection measures to encourage individuals with knowledge of fraudulent activities to come forward without fear of reprisal.
    • Collaboration & Information Sharing: Encourage collaboration between regulatory bodies, industry stakeholders, and consumer advocacy groups. Sharing information, insights, and best practices can help identify emerging trends, address systemic issues, and promote a collective effort in preventing mis-selling.

    By combining these strategies, regulators, industry participants, and investors can work together to foster a more transparent, accountable, and responsible financial environment.

    Preventing future mis-selling is a collective responsibility that requires ongoing vigilance, awareness, and a commitment to investor protection.

    Is a SIPP Still a Good Idea Despite the Mis-Selling Dangers?

    A SIPP may still be a good idea despite the mis-selling dangers, depending on your unique needs and circumstances. 

    While SIPPs can be a suitable option for retirement planning, the mis-selling dangers highlight the importance of careful consideration and due diligence. 

    Through diligent research, professional advice, and strategic management, you may be able to maximise the benefits while mitigating the potential risks.

    Common Questions

    How Can I Tell If I Have Been Mis-Sold a SIPP?

    What Should I Do If I Think I Have Been Mis-Sold a SIPP?

    How Can I Avoid Being Mis-Sold a SIPP in the Future?

    Can I Claim for a Mis-Sold SIPP If the Advisor or Firm Has Ceased Trading?

    What Is the Financial Services Compensation Scheme's Role in Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    Can I Claim for Mis-Selling If I Have Lost Money in My SIPP?

    What Evidence Do I Need to Prove My SIPP Was Mis-Sold?

    How Long Does a Mis-Sold SIPP Claim Take to Process?

    Can I Make a Mis-Sold SIPP Claim Myself or Do I Need a Solicitor?

    How Much Compensation Can I Get for a Mis-Sold SIPP?

    What Are Mis-Sold SIPPs and How to Identify Them?

    Which Steps Should You Take If You Were Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    How to Claim Compensation for Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    What Is the Process for Reporting Mis-Sold SIPPs?

    Who Is Liable for Mis-Sold SIPPs in the UK?

    In Conclusion

    We have navigated the minefield of mis-selling SIPPs, highlighted its potential impact on your hard-earned savings, and offered a roadmap to seek redress and compensation. 

    It’s important to be vigilant, question advice, and make sure you do extensive research before choosing a SIPP provider and product. 

    In doing so, you can reap the investment benefits of a SIPP, instead of falling victim to mis-sold SIPPs.

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