France, Italy also hit hard by HMRC ROPS axe, latest list reveals

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In addition to removing some 49 Canadian ROP schemes from its most recent list of such entities, as reported here yesterday, HM Revenue & Customs also took the axe to dozens more, it has emerged, including all of the schemes that had existed just two weeks earlier in France and Italy.

In total, some 82 schemes that had been on the previous version of the list, published online on 2nd November, were not to be seen yesterday, when the latest edition of the HMRC ROPS online list, which is updated every two weeks online, went live.

In addition to the 49 Canadian schemes having been removed, all 19 Italian ROP schemes vanished, as did all 11 French schemes. One each had also been removed from the Guernsey, Ireland and Norway sections of the list.

The French schemes that were removed included those of AXA and Aviva, according to Alex Norwood, a financial planner with Guildford, Surrey-based Montfort International, which specialises in helping Britons and others with UK pensions to transfer them when, the company says, it’s in the individual’s best interest to do so.

Norwood was the first to spot the changes, and alerted colleagues at his company.

Asked about the sudden disappearance of the 82 schemes, an HMRC spokesperson said, echoing past comments on the matter: “We don’t comment on identifiable jurisdictions.”

As reported, the removal of 49 Canadian schemes left just three standing as of yesterday, all of which were BMO (Bank of Montreal) entities.

As International Investment has been reporting for months, the number of Canadian ROPS – which used to be known as Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes – featured on HMRC’s official online ROPS list has been falling steadily. As recently as July there were still 68 schemes on the list; and back in June of 2015, there were 95.

No explanation has ever been given for the steady drop in the numbers.

However, Montfort managing director Geraint Davies has been saying that he believes the UK authorities were unconvinced that UK pension scheme members who transfer their UK pensions to Canada would not be able to access their pensions before the age of 55 – which, under new rules HMRC brought in last year, is no longer permitted.

Under the new regulations, anyone who is found to have moved their pension to a scheme that would permit someone to access their pension funds before their 55th birthday, directly or indirectly, now faces a significant penalty, known as an “un-authorised payment charge”, levied against them by HM Revenue & Customs.

In April 2015, HMRC stunned the UK and international pensions transfer industry when it ruled that that all but one Australian scheme failed to meet the new ‘Pension Age’ standard, and removed some 1,653 Australian ROP schemes from its list.

Today Davies was unable to say why HMRC might have removed the schemes of such other countries as France and Italy, but he noted that official concerns about the standard of many international pension transfers have been high for some time.

He reiterated his often-expressed view that inclusion on the ROPS list should not be regarded as sufficient to ensure that overseas pension schemes meet the basic standards set by HMRC or best-practice guidelines.

He also urged HMRC and the Financial Conduct Authority to examine the overseas pension transfer market, and called for there to be greater transparency with respect to why schemes are being delisted the way they have been recently.