With political parties drawing up their manifestos for the snap general election, James Phillips explores the industry's greatest desires for the future of pensions
Hints of manifesto promises are trickling out as the general election campaigns kicks off, with expected pledges to cover areas such as the future of the state pension as well as powers for The Pensions Regulator (TPR).
But there are many areas in which the industry hopes the next government will act, sometimes as a matter of urgency.
The growing wish-list includes matters of long-term debate, such as tax relief reform, and new thoughts on equalising death benefits for couples in all types of marriages.
In the short election campaigning period, parties may well be scrambling to put together manifestos for public consumption, and these could indeed be short.
To help them out, here's what the industry hopes will come out of the election.
One area the industry hopes the parties will consider in their manifestos is the future of automatic enrolment (AE).
The government has already kicked off its mandated 2017 review of the programme, but there are some areas the industry simply wants political parties to make a move on. These include issues on eligibility and the adequacy of contribution rates.
Broadstone technical director David Brooks says it is important for the political parties to recognise the initial motive for the AE programme, and promise to bring more people on-board.
"Sometimes we forget that AE is geared up for the low income workers," he argues. "The gig economy and self-employed are being missed out, but they are the target market. We need to do something to make it work for them.
"I'd like the parties to do something about AE. They need to make sure the review isn't left to wither on the vine and make sure it's recalibrated."
Yet, the AE review - made up of industry experts - will ponder these issues regardless, and then make some recommendations by the end of the year, and a political party may make promises counter to those future proposals.
Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) director of external affairs Graham Vidler says the parties could demonstrate their intent for AE in their manifestos, and then wait to see the review's conclusions before acting.
"The AE review is there for a good purpose: to carefully consider the evidence and make evidence-based recommendations," he argues. "That said, it's eminently possible for parties in their manifestos to say, for example, we think the review should look really hard at how you can extend the scope.
"This is exactly the same as what the current minister said when he launched the review. He directed the review to look at those things. You can't have all the answers in a manifesto, but there can be some pretty strong steers."
State pension age
The government is set to ignore its 7 May deadline for responding to John Cridland's review of the state pension age, stating "the decision is for the next government". The ploy clearly puts the ball in the election court, and it is perhaps a matter for opposition parties to jump on.
Putting the state pension age up to 68 in 2039, as Cridland suggested, may not be a politically popular move, yet it could afford significant cost savings for the government of the time, and is an example of long-term policy-making, which the industry so much desires.
Regardless of the outcome, it is important that the political parties set out their views on the matter sooner rather than later.
Mercer UK leader of health and benefits Tony Wood says the public needs to know the parties' view on the policy so they can adequately prepare for retirement.
"Looking beyond Brexit, the Cridland review goes to the heart of many of the core issues raised in the current election campaign, including supporting the population with work and care," he says. "However, there appears to be a distinct lack of commitment to the recommendations.
"People need to plan well in advance, to be able to make the most of living and working longer, and it is imperative that all the recommendations of this review are addressed by those forming our new government and not kicked into the long grass."
The PLSA's Vidler agrees, arguing the parties can easily look to other countries to realise their own policy on the state pension age.
"We'd like to see the parties saying the state pension is to rise high enough," he says. "68 is high enough given that that will be the highest in the OECD, and given how it compares with people's health life expectancy in many parts of the country. We could see parties making a strong stand here."
Many defined benefit (DB) schemes offer ongoing pension benefits for widows and widowers, but there is no requirement for these benefits to be awarded in full for spouses in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership.
There is an ongoing case in the Supreme Court where John Walker is hoping to receive a judgement that means his husband will be able to claim the same survivor benefits as a wife would.
Meanwhile, a different Supreme Court judgement earlier this year said a Northern Irish local government pension scheme (LGPS) should award the survivor benefits to a co-habitee of the deceased, even though a form had not declared her.
The Supreme Court judgement in the case against the Northern Irish LGPS may inform Walker's case, or at least lay some foundations for a future government to consider affirming this view in law both for co-habitees as well as same-sex couples.
So, is it now time for a future government to legislate to equalise these benefits, regardless of the relationship?
Broadstone's Brooks says the current legislative regime on this issue makes it a lottery for same-sex couples.
"I'm amazed someone has to go through the courts to get equality," he said. "It's a pensions lottery. A lot of schemes have changed but there are still a few out there that haven't. In the private sector, it would cost almost nothing because when you're doing a valuation, you presume x amount will die with a partner and y won't.
"You're not asking: 'how many are homosexual and how many are heterosexual?' That's irrelevant. Schemes price in that a proportion of people will be married when they died. A few percent of those will be those in same-sex marriages; just treat them the same."
Pensions policy straddles the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which can sometimes offer some confusion. Although the DWP has an under-secretary of state for pensions in Richard Harrington, tax measures are the responsibility of the Treasury.
The two departments are often described as working counter to each other, and the industry has been crying out for joined-up policy-making for some time. One potential solution to this is to introduce a minister specifically for savings who bridges the gap between the two ministerial posts.
Zurich UK chief executive officer Tulsi Naidu says the role could also demonstrate the government's recognition of the importance of saving.
"A savings minister would secure political representation for savers at the very top of government, coordinate savings policy across all departments and champion the needs of different consumer groups," she said. "It would demonstrate the government is committed to supporting savers and give people the certainty they need to put money away for their futures."
However, could the role blur the line between pensions and savings, as the current government has already been accused of doing? For example, the Treasury launched a ‘Ways to Save' poster in January earlier this year which omitted pensions, while the industry has lambasted the government for introducing a lifetime ISA, which can be used to save for retirement.
Together, accusations fly that the government is trying to shift the retirement savings market away from pensions.
Brooks is not convinced by Naidu's suggestion, arguing now might not be the right time for it.
"Down the line, if pensions start to wither because people are using these other savings products, then you may need someone to keep an eye on the ISAs out there," he says. "We do seem to keep procreating ISAs out of nowhere, so there might need to be savings tsar in the future, but I don't think just yet."
The general election is now just four weeks away, and manifestos - at the time of writing - are yet to be drawn up. If the parties do put out comprehensive policy agendas, they may well find it easier by listening to the industry's proposals.
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