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Major Pension Reform is on the Way

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The government has announced details on a brand-new way to save for your retirement here in the UK. An official consultation by the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) launched in October and completed this January, sought views from across the pension industry about collective defined contribution (CDC) pension schemes. The findings have helped to shape the official legislation for companies that wish to introduce the alternate scheme.

Widely used in the Netherlands, Denmark and parts of Canada, CDC schemes have long been debated in the UK. However, following months of campaigning for an official framework by the Royal Mail and the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) who have adopted the scheme, CDCs will now be available for all as an alternative option to the traditional choice of either Defined Benefit (DB) or Defined Contribution (DC) schemes for both employers and employees.

Martin Strevens, a consultant for Quantum Advisory, said:

“For a number of years now employers have been turning their backs on DB schemes for their employees in favour of the more economical DC scheme. This puts a cap on the costs for the employer and removes the requirement to value the pension liabilities in the company accounts.

“However, there has been a noticeable shift in opinion within the pension industry that traditional DC arrangements may not fulfil all members’ requirements for an income in retirement. Following the introduction of pensions freedoms in 2015, the traditional route of purchasing an annuity with a DC pot has become significantly less attractive. The alternative of accessing a DC pot via a flexi-access drawdown payment can potentially leave people with a large sum of money and no real idea how long they will need the money to last or how to reinvest it in the meantime.

“CDCs are an alternative pensions vehicle that work by pooling the collective employee and employer contributions together in a combined fund – more akin to a DB arrangement. The difference here is that in a CDC scheme, members get to choose how their funds are invested and the investment choices are available at a lower charge than a non-pooled arrangement.

“The pension benefits available at retirement are calculated by the Scheme Actuary who considers the rate that pension members can reasonably expect to receive, given the rate of contributions promised to the scheme. The answer then drives the rate at which pensions are paid. From an employer funding perspective, it would remain a DC scheme. The key point to note, is that if investment returns do not achieve the expected level of return, then the benefit payable to the member is reduced accordingly. This point is crucial, and clearly if CDCs are to provide a truly viable alternative, communications with members will be critical.

“The consultation asked a number of questions of the pension industry to gauge the appetite for CDCs, to understand the problems and complexities of CDCs and to seek views as to how these problems could be overcome. Issues include the possible minimum size for a CDC to enable it sufficient scale to effectively pool longevity risk, if CDCs should be legislated as a DC scheme, the best ways to manage risk, any additional communications and information requirements for CDCs and how CDCs would fit within the automatic enrolment regime. As part of the consultation, it has been confirmed that in order to protect the investments and to ensure costs are controlled, the DWP is proposing that all CDC pension schemes will be subject to a charge cap of 0.75%, set at the same level as DC schemes.

“From within the industry, reaction to the consultation has been positive, with the acknowledgement that a new method of pension provision can provide a sound and reasonable solution, whilst acknowledging that there are many hurdles to overcome before a final path is set. CDCs are not without their critics. Some argue that they are inter-generationally unfair, as if a scheme overestimates the amount its assets will return, it must adjust its liabilities by cutting its pensions promise for some or all future members. Other argue that CDCs are untested in the UK and against the spirit of pensions freedom.

“The result of the consultation will be presented to parliament “as soon as parliamentary time allows”, but it is clear that the government has thrown some real backing behind the CDCs as a viable alternative to the traditional DB and DC arrangements and so the pension industry awaits further developments with great interest.”

Quantum Advisory specialises in pension and employee benefits services to employers, scheme trustees and members. For more information about Quantum Advisory, please visit: https://quantumadvisory.co.uk.

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