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Public Spending Watchdog To Investigate Delays To Multimillion-Pound Pensions Project

The Pensions Dashboard would make it easier to see all your pension pots in one place (Alamy)

4 min read

Exclusive: The National Audit Office has agreed to investigate delays into the government’s long-awaited Pensions Dashboard project, which is now expected to be rolled out seven years late after costing the taxpayer millions of pounds.

In a letter seen by PoliticsHome, the NAO responded to Labour MP Nick Smith’s request for them to investigate the delays into the project, confirming they expect to start a “responsive piece of work” by the end of this year.

The Pensions Dashboard Programme is a plan to launch a digital interface that would allow savers to see all their lifetime pension savings in one place, updated in real time.

It was announced by David Cameron’s Conservative government in the March 2015 Budget. 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, delivery of the programme was then pushed back to 2023, before being delayed again until October 2026.

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) has been allocated £91.1m for the delivery of the programme between the financial years 2019/20 and 2024/2025. So far, £45.3m of this has been spent. The string of delays prompted Smith to write to the NAO demanding an investigation, as revealed by PoliticsHome last month.

In his letter confirming an investigation will be carried out, NAO Comptroller and Auditor General Gareth Davies said that although work was being done in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reset the programme, it would be subject to a review. 

“My team have now completed their initial inquiries, including discussions with officials at DWP to find out more about what has happened with the programme and the plans for the reset,” he wrote. 

“In light of that work, I have decided that there would be value in us undertaking a responsive piece of work on this area.

“I recognise the amount of work currently underway to reset the programme and so have decided not to begin our review quite yet. We will be firming up the precise timings shortly, but I expect my team to start work towards the end of this year.”

Smith, who is a member of the public accounts commons select committee, told PoliticsHome it was “good news” the independent public spending watchdog was stepping in. 

“It's just the sort of a nudge that I think the department needed, given the programme's been delayed for so long,” he said.

“I think ministers won’t like it and I expect that the National Audit Office will now be marking their homework, but given this is such a long standing failure to deliver the answers about what's caused the delay, it's very good news that the NAO is stepping in.”

He said there would likely be a Public Accounts Committee hearing after the NAO study.

In his original letter requesting an NAO investigation, Smith warned that the impact of the delays could be “substantial” when around £37bn is lost in forgotten pension pots around the UK, which translated into additional government spending on the programme. 

“Separately, it is estimated that £37bn is lost in forgotten pension pots across the UK,” he wrote. 

“This means around 22 per cent 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 Labour MP added that with households struggling with rising costs of living, helping people manage the pensions landscape is more important than ever.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The government remains as committed as ever to making pensions dashboards a reality.

"The reset of the programme will enable us to make significant progress on delivering dashboards safely and securely – transforming the way people plan for retirement.”

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