For the first time, a prosecution brought by The Pension Regulator has resulted in an immediate custodial sentence.
In February Roger Bessent – a pension trustee – was convicted on to five counts of fraud, and two counts of making employer-related investments by way of prohibited loans. He was also charged with acting as a director while disqualified.
He has now been sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Bessent was a trustee and administrator of the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme.
Preston Crown Court heard how Bessent has used more than £120,000 to buy himself and his wife a rental property as a personal investment. This house was subsequently used by his daughter.
Others funds were used to pay tax bills for Bessent’s accountancy business, and the business of a client.
Bessent admitted making these transfers which he converted to loans. He also made official minutes and records of the pension scheme, falsely listing other trustees as present at meeting when they were not.
TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation Nicola Parish says: “Trustees play a vital role in protecting the benefits of members. We will not tolerate the abuse of such an important job.”
She described Bessent as using the pension scheme as a “personal piggy bank”.
Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst Nathan Long adds: “The chunky helping of prison time handed out will go a long way to showing quite how intent regulators are on taking down those that are involved in pension scams.”
This news comes as research from wealth management firms, Succession Wealth, found that 10 per cent of those aged over 50 believe they have been targeted by pension scammers. However, only a fifth of these people said they report it to the appropriate authorities.
Long says: “It tends to be those approaching retirement who are in the crosshairs of the scammers. Protect yourself by making sure you only deal with regulated organisations, providing regulated investments.”
Long points out that pension scams come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but by and large they tend to be investment scams, with fraudsters simply targeting money tied up in pension pots.
He says: “This particular investment scam operated by setting up an occupational pension scheme. People were then encouraged to transfer, often with the promise of higher returns, to the new pension scheme.
“In this instance, Mr Bessent fraudulently loaned money from the pension to himself and his family to fund their lifestyle.”