Govt media blackout fears as April changes take effect

The government could be blocked from communicating the biggest change in pensions for 90 years by rules that forbid it from spending money publicising controversial policies in the run up to a general election.

Purdah rules control the ability of government departments to spend money on paid media campaigns in the six weeks prior to a general election. With this year’s general election fixed for 7th May 2015, the government could be stopped from communicating the wide-ranging changes to the pensions system from March 26th. This would leave it silenced just as the new changes come into effect on April 6th.

Officials say cabinet office guidelines for the purdah period will be similar to the 2010 guidelines, which said: 

“Paid media campaigns will in general be postponed and running campaigns closed; this includes online advertising, pay per click and banner advertising activity. However, some advertising for example recruitment, health and safety might be specifically approved to continue by the Permanent Secretary Government Communications, in consultation with the Propriety and Ethics Team, Cabinet Office.”

The DWP says no decision has yet been made as to whether a ban will extend to the new flexibilities unveiled in this year’s budget. Providers are worried the

A DWP spokesperson says: “The Government hasn’t yet published its guidance for the 2015 election, but it is likely to be very similar to what was provided in 2010.

“A view will have to be taken as to whether pensions-related campaigns fall into this exceptional category, but that’s not a decision that has yet been made.”

NOW: Pensions CEO Morten Nilsson says: “It’s deeply worrying that in the run up to the biggest shake up in the pensions system since 1921 the government could potentially find itself mute. Providers and advisers have been calling for a mass pensions publicity and advertising campaign to raise awareness of the Budget reforms and guidance guarantee but it looks as though the election will make this an impossibility. Unless this issue is addressed, there could be serious repercussions for savers.”

Aviva head of policy, corporate benefits John Lawson says: “It is absolutely crucial that we manage to get the message out to the public, whether that is through a massive campaign before the purdah period, or through some agreement in Parliament that this is too important an issue to miss.”