When making certain future changes to their pension scheme, employers should keep in mind the requirement to consult with their employees before making the change. In this blog post, we run through the key aspects of member consultations to provide a reminder of what exactly employers need to do, and why they need to do it.

Who?

Employers who have 50 or more employees based in Great Britain are subject to consultation requirements set out in the relevant consultation regulations. This threshold is based on the number of employees the employer has, even if some of those employees are not pension scheme members.


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With the introduction of automatic enrolment, increasing longevity, and employees focusing on the full benefit package offered by an employer, rather than just salary, an employer’s pension offering is under the spotlight. However, despite the increased relevance, the difference between types of pension scheme is not always clear. So, what are the key differences between a workplace trust-based pension scheme (“Trust Scheme“) and a workplace contract-based pension scheme (“Contract Scheme“)?
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A traffic policeman on motorway patrol passed a car that appeared to be driving at 11mph. The policeman pulled the car over, and asked the driver why he was going so slowly.

“I saw a sign saying that the speed limit was 11mph” said the driver. “A big blue sign, with white numbering.”

“That’s not the speed limit, that’s the road name – the M11” said the policeman. The policeman then looked at the passenger, who was sitting rigid in her seat, a rictus grin on her face. “What’s the matter with her?” asked the policeman. “Well” said the driver, “we’ve just joined the motorway from the A120.”

Interpreting laws and regulations can be difficult – particularly in highly technical areas such as pensions, where legislation can be opaque at the best of times. The Pensions Act 2004 tried to ameliorate this problem by giving the Pensions Regulator the power to flesh out legislation by issuing Codes of Practice. Codes of Practice have a special status: they have to be laid before Parliament before they come into force; they are admissible in legal proceedings; and if they appear to be relevant to the question the court has to decide, the court has to take them into account. (Albeit, on occasion, judges have “taken into account” Codes of Practice by brusquely dismissing them.)


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The possibility of a Pensions Bill in the next parliamentary session should provide clarity on the funding framework for defined benefit (DB) schemes.

The Government’s white paper in March 2018 proposed that the Pensions Regulator should issue a revised code of practice focusing on how prudence is demonstrated when assessing scheme liabilities, appropriate factors for recovery plans, and ensuring that a long-term view is considered when setting the funding objective. Some or all of the funding standards contained in this revised code would be given statutory force.


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Recent determinations of the Pensions Ombudsman¹ have considered the extent to which employers should provide information on pension rights to employees who have notified them of a terminal illness.

The law

There is no general duty on employers to advise employees about their pension rights, or to safeguard employees’ economic well-being. Indeed, the law prohibits anyone other than a person authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority from advising on pension rights.

However, a distinction should be drawn between “advising” and “providing information”. In some situations the law imposes specific duties on employers to provide information about pension rights to employees. When the law is silent, however, getting things right can be tricky.


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Mayer Brown’s UK Pensions Group has launched a monthly video series providing a snapshot of recent developments and issues of current importance in the UK pensions industry. In the first episode, available on our YouTube channel, partner Richard Goldstein looks at the issue of DB superfunds and, in particular, the UK government’s recent consultation

We recently advised a pension scheme on a buy-out of its defined benefit (DB) liabilities with an insurer. In the run up to the transaction, the employer and the trustees looked very carefully at whether the scheme had enough assets to make the transaction possible. It was touch and go, but in the end the assets were just enough.

This made me think about how important taking benefit de-risking action as part of the journey to full funding can be. On its own, each benefit de-risking step does not have a transformative effect on funding. But, as part of a wider programme of funding and investment action, benefit de-risking can make the difference between getting to 100% funding on a buy-out basis and not.


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Guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) conversion offers the opportunity for defined benefit schemes to simplify their benefits, potentially saving costs and making schemes more attractive to be bought out with an insurer.

Age-old question

One of the great unanswered questions of pensions law has finally being answered. In October last year, the High Court in the Lloyds Bank case determined that pension schemes have to equalise for the effect of GMPs. As part of the judgment, the Court confirmed the effectiveness of the GMP conversion legislation issued by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Also, in a follow-up judgment, the Court confirmed that GMP conversion, known as the “D2 method”, can be used as a route to achieve equalisation. This effectively allows a scheme to pay the higher of two amounts, based on the value of the member’s GMP and an opposite sex comparator’s GMP, rather than run on dual records for service between May 1990 and April 1997.


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Five years ago the pensions world was rocked by George Osborne’s Budget announcement:  DC members would no longer be forced to buy annuities.

Under his “freedom and choice” initiative, tax rules were changed so that DC pots could be used to provide lump sums or drawdown.  At the same time, Pension Wise was introduced – free guidance for DC members about their benefit options.  Later changes to tax law mean that, subject to certain conditions, members can use their DC savings to pay for financial advice.


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