The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has warned trustees risk being fined if they do not prepare for changes in their annual defined contribution (DC) scheme returns.
Trustees have been told about a number of reforms being made to DC scheme returns by the regulator so they can plan ahead.
From July this year, revised scheme returns will be sent out by TPR in accordance with legislation brought in 2015.
These demand more information from trustees including charge controls and scheme governance.
Latest figures showed DC scheme return completion rates had fallen for the second year running, down 18% from January 2014 to January 2016.
Chief executive Lesley Titcomb (pictured above) told PP last week she was unsure what explained the late returns and that it was being investigated by TPR: "One of the priorities for the coming year is ensuring we maintain our regulatory grip by driving up that level of return.
"The information in returns is absolutely critical for us to do our job as a regulator. Therefore I am absolutely adamant the rate of return needs to increase. We are running an exercise accordingly to chase up on a number of the missing returns to actually see what has happened and why they have not been sent in."
Some cases were due to trustees having moved on or information being out of date. "It should be within the next couple of months or so [when TPR finishes its exercise and explanations come to light] and it will be useful to share some of what we have learned," she continued.
Executive director of regulatory policy Andrew Warwick-Thompson added in a statement yesterday: "We are supporting trustees in numerous ways including new web guidance and news-by-email to help them understand how to complete the new scheme return in order to demonstrate they are meeting new governance standards. They must now identify the scheme's chair and confirm that they have completed a chair's statement.
"We are disappointed and concerned that scheme return completion rates have fallen. We expect full co-operation in this area and for trustees of all schemes to meet their legal duties. We will act where trustees demonstrate that they are not meeting even the basic 'hygiene' duty of completing a scheme return."
In response to TPR's stance, RSM's Pensions Group head of DC Karen Tasker said: "TPR has highlighted that scheme return completion rates have fallen for the second year running, down 18% from January 2014 to January 2016. Working with DC trustees and chairing the Pension Research and Accountant's Group DC Working Party, I am not surprised that trustees are failing to meet every task expected of them.
"The legal changes have come in thick and fast and this has inevitably meant more pressure on DC arrangements - and particularly those which are poorly resourced. There is now a genuine need for recognition that trustees need to focus on the delivery of good member outcomes, rather than being constantly diverted by onerous compliance requirements.
"TPR tries to strike a balance by encouraging trustees to demonstrate compliance with their DC duties. This is clearly welcome and there are many tools available to assist. However, trustees will also now need to take time to consider the consultation on the new DC ‘How to Guides' which were released last week."
TPR has also published its corporate plan which outlines its top 10 priorities for the period up to 2019 and has produced a checklist guide for trustees about the new scheme return.
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