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3rd June 2005 at 01:00
According to a new survey by the Department for Education and Skills and the Prudential, two-thirds of teachers do not think they have sorted out their finances for retirement or do not know if they have.

More than 2,500 teachers answered a questionnaire over Easter about the quality of communication they receive about their pension arrangements.

Two-thirds criticised information from employers. More than a quarter did not remember any communication from the Prudential, which manages the additional voluntary contribution accounts of about 160,000 teachers, despite the fact that it sends them at least three letters a year.

These findings must disappoint the DfES and the Pru, both keen to ensure their communications are clear and comprehensible. Since 2003, for example, teachers have received annual benefit statements, one of the first set of public sector workers to do so, says Richard Symms of the DfES. "Every teacher now gets one and can also access it on the internet. We are also introducing combined pension forecasts from next year which will cover state benefits as well as TPS benefits. This should be a real aid to pension planning."

Planning is the key and the DfES and the Pru want to understand what motivates people to do it. "It is probably related to your stage in life," says Debbie Falvey, the Pru's public sector employer relationship manager.

"A new teacher needs to understand the pension scheme they are joining.

Another may be moving up the career ladder and getting a good idea of what their future is and the plans they need to make. And another might hit their 40th birthday and realise how quickly 20 years can zip by."

Improved quality of information might help save the Pru the embarrassment it suffered over mis-selling allegations last year. More than 100 teachers complained to the Pensions Ombudsman, saying they would have been better off buying past added years, rather than the AVCs first offered by the Pru back in 1989. Three of the four cases resolved in April of this year were won by teachers.

"Part of that problem may have been people not really understanding how well their investments are doing. Something about the information we send out may not quite be hitting the mark," says Ms Falvey. "The investments we have made on behalf of teachers have done extremely well, even given the difficult investment conditions of the past few years.

"We need to work out if customers are misinterpreting what we send them, or whether we have different expectations or whether they are not putting things into the context of the wider world. Teachers need to feel happier that they are doing the right thing."

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