2010 – A review of the Year in Pensions

If we were to compare the developments in UK pensions in 2010 to a football match, it might be described as a classic game of two halves – with the half time whistle being blown a little early in May for the General Election.

Unlike most football games, there was a new coalition referee for the second-half who decided that some of the goals in the first half were under review. If fans were feeling a little cheated at this point, they soon got over it as the second half began with a flurry of events, announcements, consultations, surveys, opinions, discussions, guidance, strikes and so on – I even recall someone saying at a meeting in June that they were unable to offer an opinion on the market because they had been on holiday for a week.

With so much having happened in 2010, and as we begin the countdown to Christmas and the New Year, we thought it might be useful to look back, sort the fact from the fiction and offer a post match summary of what actually happened.

Please let us know if we have missed anything out, what’s affected you most or what is likely to go down as the big story of 2010 in years to come – there’s plenty to choose from.

A new Government
In the first four months of the year, under Gordon Brown’s leadership, the DWP published regulations for Automatic Enrolment and National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) and confirmed that the option to contract out of the additional State Pension into a Defined Contribution pension scheme would be abolished from 6 April 2012.

But did it all matter when, after 6 days of uncomfortable behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Labour Government was replaced by the newly formed Conservative and Lib Deb Coalition on 12th May.

With the new government came a new lineup under David Cameron: George Osborne as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Iain Duncan Smith as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and Steve Webb as Minister for Pensions.

Some strong statements and intentions followed soon afterwards. IDS was first up with his vision for improving the quality of life by phasing out the default retirement age, ending compulsory annuitisation at age 75 and, from April 2011, the Basic State Pension was to rise by the minimum of prices, earnings or 2.5%, whichever is higher. He also committed to making automatic enrolment and increased pension saving a reality.

Next it was George Osborne with the first Budget of the Coalition Government on 22nd June, which included a number of announcements on pensions:

  • Pensions Indexation. From April 2011, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) will be used for the indexation of all benefits, tax credits and public service pensions.
  • State Pensions and Benefits. From April 2011, the basic State Pension will be uprated by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. CPI will be used as the measure of prices but the basic State Pension will be uprated by the equivalent of RPI in April 2011.
  • State Pension Age. The Government will review the date at which the State Pension Age rises to 66.
  • Pensions Tax Relief. The Government will restrict pensions tax relief through an approach involving reform of existing allowances, principally of a significantly reduced annual allowance in the range of £30,000 to £45,000.
  • Public Service Pensions. An independent commission chaired by John Hutton, formerly Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will undertake a fundamental structural review of public service pension provision by Budget 2011.
  • Default Retirement Age. The Government will consult shortly on how it will quickly phase out the Default Retirement Age from April 2011.

Two days later, reviews were announced into the timing of the State Pension Age rise to 66 and how best to implement auto-enrolment.

We all caught our breath for a few months and then, in October, the Government announced that, from April 2011, the annual allowance for tax privileged pension saving will be £50,000 and from April 2012 the lifetime allowance will be £1.5million.

Soon after, the outcome of the independent review into auto-enrolment was published and, separately, the Government announced that the State Pension age would rise from 65 to 66 between December 2018 and April 2020 for both men and women.

The Pensions Regulator flexes its muscles
Bill Galvin became the new chief executive of tPR from 17 May, replacing Tony Hobman, after five years in charge.

Soon after, guidance was issued on record keeping, monitoring employer support, multi-employer schemes and winding-up. Consultations were launched on transfer incentives and single equality schemes.

From June to September tPR used its powers of enforcement, handing out the first Contribution Notice to the Bonas Group Pension Scheme and a Financial Support Direction to companies connected with the Nortel Group and Lehman Brothers Group.

After four years of operating the Trustee Register, tPR changed the way it assesses the conditions for registration. From 51 firms at the start of the year, it is expected that this number will be considerably less by the year-end.

and the PPF was busy too
January and November saw the PPF unveil not one but two Purple books as a revamp took place and those schemes currently in the assessment period were removed.

June was the month the PPF issued new guidance to actuaries completing section 143 valuations and in October a new formula was proposed for calculating the pension protection levy from 2012/13 onwards.

Finally, as the year approached its end, the first scheme (the Paterson Printing Pension Scheme) successfully transferred through the new Assess & Pay Programme, just under 18 months after the company went insolvent.

How 2010 is shaping up – end of year financials
As we write, the pound is up 4.5% in the year against the Euro and down 3.5% against the dollar, the FTSE 100 sits around the 5750 mark, up 6% on the year, and the benchmark government bond yield has hardly moved compared to a year ago. Wouldn’t it be great if these relatively moderate movements were the result of a number of small predictable steps in one direction throughout the year and we knew what was going to happen next year? If only it was that easy when we agreed our recovery plans.

No doubt many of us will end the year by looking to the future. Will 2011 be the year that EU regulation imposes further funding requirements on defined benefit schemes? How will the rpi/cpi debate play out? Will new rules allow early access to 25% of our pensions savings if we fall ill? How about an ETV mis-selling scandal? Like 2010, a lot could happen. Please let us know what your predictions and concerns might be.

But before you become too paralysed with fear about potential hyper-inflation, the break-up of the European Union, winning the Ashes or never hosting the World Cup, you may wish to consider the words of Mark Twain: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.

With Seasonal Best Wishes,
Brian Spence and the team at Dalriada Trustees

Brian Spence
Brian Spence

Over 20 years experience in the pensions industry. An independent professional pension scheme trustee, qualified actuary, Fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and Society of Actuaries in Ireland.