Victims of pension scams were no doubt horrified on 19 March when BBC Radio Four’s ‘You and Yours’ programme accused Angela Brooks of lying to her clients and taking money from the firms she is supposed to be pursuing on their behalf.
Speaking to International Adviser, the founder and director of Pension Life denied the allegations.
What was said?
“We can reveal that a high-profile champion for people who’ve lost their pensions has been secretly paid by some of the very organisations that she has supposedly campaigned against,” was the opening salvo from the radio presenter last Thursday.
An investigation carried out by the programme said it had found evidence that Brooks had misrepresented her credentials, taken money from people who had lost all or part of their pensions and failed to deliver on promises to get their money back.
It added that she was also secretly being paid by some of the firms she was pursuing.
The programme spoke to several of her clients who had lost between £38,000 and over £100,000 ($115,876, €107,963) to pension and investment scams.
They each paid sums to Brooks; ranging from a £500 one-off charge to an initial £1,500 payment, followed by an annual fee of £750.
One man said he initially saw her as “a shining light at a time of total blackness”, during a period when some of the victims of the Ark pension scheme had taken their own lives.
The radio presented told him she had “seen documents that suggest [Brooks had] been paid, on a monthly basis, a substantial amount of money for at least two years” by the firm she was supposedly pursuing to retrieve his lost pension, Momentum Trustees.
The victim said: “I do have to say that, now, I‘m not wholly surprised. Greed is the main driving force in her case.”
He attributed the stress and worry of losing and trying to retrieve his pension with helping to “bring about the early demise of my partner, Ann”.
“Her hopes were built up by Angela Brooks. And they have been dashed by Angela Brooks.”
‘You and Yours’ stated that the documents show Momentum paid Brooks around £20,000 over a period of two years.
When approached by the radio programme, the company declined to comment.
But a spokesperson told International Adviser on Tuesday: “Momentum Pensions maintains the highest standards in delivering its responsibilities as a pension solutions provider and we understand that Angela Brooks, through Pension Life, has independently supported customers who have received misleading financial advice.
“We have a policy of not disclosing the details of any relationships with third parties, whether they exist or not, but given the inaccuracy of the reporting to date, we can confirm that we have no legal or contractual relationship with Pension Life.”
What was the operation?
The radio programme spoke with Guy Myles who was described as running a firm of financial advisers in England.
He told the presenter that Brooks’ strategy involves writing highly critical blogs about the companies she was pursuing on behalf of clients.
“The companies would then approach her and discuss how to remove the article from the internet or change it. And they would pay her money for it,” Myles said.
He claimed that, after reneging on a partnership with Pension Life, Brooks demanded he pay her £5,000 – which he said he refused.
“A week later, this shocking article appeared on her blog. What she wrote was outrageous, vitriolic, defamatory, lies. Saying that we were fraudulent and harming clients.
“Still to this day, [it] makes me really angry.”
The presenter added: “I’ve met and spoken to several people who’ve said that the abuse they’ve received from Angela Brooks online was personal and appalling.”
When is a barrister not a barrister?
Another point raised by the programme was Brooks’ use of the term barrister.
The investigation said it found no evidence that she had every registered or qualified as one.
People are not allowed to describe themselves as such to prevent people from being misled.
In emails to clients, Brooks described herself as a tax barrister and the presenter did acknowledge that it is permitted if the person appears in a tax tribunal – which is not a court.
Brooks has appeared for people at tax tribunals.
Whether this distinction was clear to her clients, however, is another matter.
Two sides of a story
Brooks initially agreed to answer some questions from ‘You and Yours’. However, her lawyer sent a letter instead.
It stated that an ongoing case in Spain, on behalf of 17 British citizens who lost their pension savings, meant that “neither Miss Brooks nor I can answer any of your questions” at present “since this might prejudice these proceedings and the claimants’ interests”.
However, Brooks agreed to talk to International Adviser about the programme to give her side.
“If you take a little pinch of truth and you mix it up with another pinch of half truths together with a great dollop of lies, you can spin a very convincing story,” she said.
“It’s never quite as simple as calling up an advisory firm or life office and asking ‘could we have this person’s money back?’”
She acknowledged that, quite often, it starts with her publishing a “fairly critical blog” on her website.
“The next thing that happens is the chairman or CEO of the company will pick up the phone and say, ‘can we talk?’ And can we do it discreetly?”
“Sometimes it results in the money being recovered. And sometimes it doesn’t.”
Brooks said she makes it a rule that she will take a blog post down immediately if asked to politely – althought not if threatened.
“I always do that.”
She strongly refuted the suggestion that she accepts money from companies to take posts off her website.
“Yes, I have accepted money for travel arrangements and accommodation for settlement meetings. Sometimes the firms booked the travel themselves and sometimes they send the money for the travel. That’s accepted practice.
“And yes, I do sometimes take down the blogs. And sometimes I put them back up just as quickly”
When asked if there are any circumstances in which she would take money from a firm she is pursuing on behalf of clients for personal gain, she said: “I would never do that.
“I have, however, long sought a solution which would allow Pension Life to be funded so that all members could be taken on pro bono.”
Not scaring off clients
Brooks told IA that she has received messages of support from some of her clients following the Radio Four programme.
“I have listened to the BBC programme and take a different view,” said one. “She charges very little for her service and it’s up to her how she decides to fund Pension Life.”
Another accused the BBC of failing in its “principles of research and the quantification of events and facts […] in the interests of drama”.
International Adviser asked Brooks if she was able to calculate how much money she has helped clients recover.
“It isn’t as straight forward as – out of £X I have managed to get back X percent.
“In hard numbers, it is probably fair to say that about £10m has been recovered or is in the process of being recovered due to non-contentious negotiations and amicable settlements.”