29 January 2020

‘Government must listen to all-party concerns over Pension Schemes Bill’ – Steve Webb, Royal London comments on House of Lords Debate

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Steve Webb
Royal London

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Following last night’s first debate in the House of Lords on the 2020 Pension Schemes Bill, Royal London policy director Steve Webb has called on the DWP to listen to concerns about the legislation expressed by peers from all political parties.

During the debate, which lasted for over four hours, peers raised concerns about a number of issues in the Bill and about measures which were omitted.   Key topics included:

-          The new criminal sanctions designed to crack down on ‘bad bosses’ who recklessly underfund their pension schemes have been drawn, in the words of Baroness Drake, ‘incredibly widely’;   this could put a much wider group of people including pension fund trustees at risk of criminal prosecution, and might discourage lay people from serving as trustees;  similar concerns were raised by Conservative peers Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Baroness Noakes and Lord Kirkhope, Labour peer Lord Hutton and Lib Dem peer Baroness Janke;

-          The proposal to allow for new Collective Defined Contribution schemes (or ‘Collective Money Purchase’ schemes as they are known in the Bill) was generally welcomed, but several peers felt the legislation should pave the way for industry-wide CDC schemes and not just single employer schemes of the sort proposed by the Royal Mail;

-          On the pensions dashboard there was concern about the lack of detail in the Bill, the lack of progress on the project and the potentially limited scope of the information that would be featured, as well as differences of opinion on whether multiple dashboards were preferable to a single publicly run dashboard;

-          Peers criticised a number of omissions from the Bill.   These included:

o   Failure to implement the DWP’s own automatic enrolment review proposal to lower the starting age from 22 to age 18 (where ministers repeated the ‘mid 2020s’ timetable);

o   Failure to legislate for DB pension ‘consolidators’ – a point raised by Baroness Warwick who serves on the Board of the Pension Protection Fund;

Another major concern of peers was the lack of detail in the Bill, with particular concern that rules about how CDC Schemes will operate being left to subsequent regulations.  The DWP Minister who opened the debate (Baroness Stedman-Scott) said that the House of Lords would be able to see ‘illustrative’ regulations before the next set of debates on the Bill.

Commenting, Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London said:

‘The general thrust of this Bill is widely welcomed but there are still serious concerns about both what is in the Bill and what is left out.   Peers on all sides pointed out that the new powers to jail people when company pension funds go badly wrong could bring in a much wider group of people than ‘bad bosses’.  This could in turn discourage lay people from being willing to serve as trustees, which would be a serious backward step.  The Bill also fails to implement important changes to the pension landscape such as bringing more people into automatic enrolment and legislating for the vehicles for consolidating smaller pension schemes.   Whilst the DWP can ultimately use its majority in the Commons to ‘ram through’ pretty much any legislation, the pension system would be better if it listened carefully to the concerns raised by peers and amended its own Bill’.

Notes to Editors

1.       The full transcript of the debate can be found at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2020-01-28

2.       In addition to measures falling within the responsibility of DWP, former health minister Lord Warner asked the Government to address the issues caused for NHS staff by the rules around pension tax relief.

About Royal London:

Royal London is the largest mutual life, pensions and investment company in the UK, with funds under management of £130 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 4,046 employees. Figures quoted are as at June 2019.

For further information please contact:

Royal London Press Office