New Clause 1 — Impact on Government revenues

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:24 pm on 3rd December 2014.

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‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within a period of no more than two years from 6 April 2015, publish and lay before the House of Commons a review of the impact of the changes made by this Act to the Finance Act 2004 and the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 on Government revenue, with particular reference to opportunities for tax and national insurance contributions avoidance.

(2) The information published under subsection (1) should include an assessment of the impact of this Act on—

(a) the use of salary sacrifice arrangements;

(b) income tax receipts; and

(c) national insurance contributions.’—(Cathy Jamieson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Pension flexibility: Treasury review

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within a period of no more than 18 months from 6 April 2015, publish and lay before the House of Commons a comprehensive review of the impact of the changes made by this Act to the Finance Act 2004 and the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003.

(2) The information published under subsection (1) must include—

(a) the distributional impact, by income decile of the population, of changes made by this Act to the Finance Act 2004 and Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003;

(b) the impact on Exchequer revenues of measures contained within Schedule 2: Death of a Pension Scheme Member, related to changes to the taxation of pensions at death;

(c) a behavioural analysis;

(d) an analysis of the cumulative impact of this Act on Exchequer revenues;

(e) an analysis of the impact of this Act on the purchase of annuities.”

Amendment (a) to new clause 2, line 13 at end insert—

“() an analysis of the impact of the changes introduced by this Act on the housing market;”

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon for Report stage and Third Reading, and I do not think I can quite do justice to the excitement and delight that I felt when I saw that the final stages were indeed to be taken straight after the autumn statement. I am sure that is a view shared by the Minister, who will also be grateful for this miraculous feat of scheduling. Given the vast numbers who have turned out to hear us this afternoon, the excitement is obviously broadly shared across the House.

This is a serious Bill, however, and we have serious matters to discuss this afternoon, so I will now turn to the content of new clauses 1 and 2. There is a certain symmetry to the scheduling of today’s proceedings, because the reforms in the Bill were first announced in the Budget statement and we are now discussing the Bill’s final stages alongside the autumn statement. We should be impressed—if that is the right word—by the speed with which the Government have rushed through these very significant pension reforms, although, given that we will now rush through something else even more quickly as a result of the autumn statement, perhaps I should have waited to hear that statement before writing that line in my script for this debate.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend has congratulated the Government on the speed with which they have brought in these measures. She will be aware that I have secured an Adjournment debate later today on the unintended consequences that have been visited on some of my constituents as a result of previous hastily introduced pension legislation. The Government have attempted to undo that legislation but, unfortunately, without any great success. Will my hon. Friend therefore temper her praise and reflect on the fact that hastily introduced pension legislation can often have unintended consequences?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If I had continued my speech for another couple of lines, he would have understood that my praise was somewhat tongue in cheek, given what I am about to say about the haste with which the measures have been introduced, about the impact that that has had, and about the concerns expressed by the industry. I know that my hon. Friend is taking up these issues on behalf of his constituents and putting them forward very seriously. We still do not know all the unintended consequences that will result from this Bill and the Pension Schemes Bill, which has now gone through the House, and that is one reason why I want to speak to the new clauses today.

At least one of the new clauses will seem familiar to those who had the pleasure, as I did, of serving on the Bill Committee. We have been consistent in our approach to the reforms. We have always said that we supported the principles of greater freedom and choice, but only when that leads to better outcomes for consumers. That is why we have consistently called on the Government to give us evidence that they have undertaken the appropriate assessment and analysis of the impact and potential consequences of the reforms. This also relates to what my hon. Friend has just said. For as long as we have pressed the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to provide that information, he has politely but firmly refused to do so. We on this side of the House are nothing if not persistent, however, and it would be remiss of us not to make one final attempt to bring the Government round to our way of thinking and to persuade them to accept our new clauses.

In a moment, I shall ask the Minister some questions on the figures that have been published today, but first I want to refer to some of the points that have been made about the speed with which the Bill has been taken through Parliament. Comments have been made in briefings and submitted in evidence as we have approached Third Reading. For example, the Association of British Insurers has stated that

“it is becoming increasingly clear that the first phase of the introduction of these reforms will be delivered in a period of regulatory uncertainty.”

The impact of that will be felt by the constituents of my hon. Friend Toby Perkins. The ABI goes on to say:

“There is still a lack of clarity about what is expected of anyone offering retirement products from next April.”

I will come back to those points in a moment. The Bill has had thorough scrutiny, but a number of issues remain that we wish to pursue.

New clause 1 calls for a Treasury review within two years of the reforms coming into force on 6 April 2015, detailing the impact of the Bill on Government revenues, with particular reference to opportunities for tax avoidance and national insurance contributions avoidance. In Committee, we tried to get more details and figures, and the comments of John Greenwood and others were often quoted, particularly those relating to concerns that the Bill could allow individuals to divert large sums into their pensions through salary sacrifice. Those individuals would then be able to take as much as they wished from that pension in the following year, as 25% would be tax free and the rest would be charged at their marginal rate, with no money deducted through national insurance contributions. Although the introduction of the money purchase annual allowance rules is supposed to prevent that, the reduced £10,000 limit is activated only after the pension has been flexibly accessed for the first time.

The Association of Accounting Technicians has raised concerns about this, saying:

“In the first year, before the £40,000 allowance is lost, individuals over the age of 55 will still have the scope to save tax and NI on the full £40,000, provided they have the necessary earnings, less their existing pension contributions. Where an individual flushes (passes) an extra £30,000 through pension rather than drawing salary they will achieve a saving of £3,600 in employee NI, more than £1,500 in income tax and, also, £4,140 in employer NI (13.8%) in the first year. A total loss to the public purse of £9,240. The “Freedom and choice in pensions” rules mean this money can be withdrawn immediately if an individual is over 55. This fact means that there will not be clear distinction between salary and pension for this age group.”

I have some questions for the Minister about that. Does he agree that the Bill, as it stands, would afford additional scope for tax avoidance of the type outlined? I know we have discussed this matter in Committee, but it is important to probe it until the last possible moment.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar 3:45 pm, 3rd December 2014

The hon. Lady has obviously done a lot of research on this. As I understand it, once a flexible draw-down is started, the tax relief is then limited beyond that, so cascading £40,000 of tax relief year after year is not possible. That is my reading of the Bill.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, as those are exactly the kind of detailed points that I hope the Minister will respond to when he gives his views on the provisions. These are exactly the sort of questions to ask: is that the type of tax avoidance that we have described and the AAT has suggested would be an issue? Is it possible? Is it an intended consequence of the Bill? During the Public Bill Committee he explicitly told us that allowing individuals to avoid income tax and national insurance contributions is “not the intention” of the reforms, and I had no doubt that he was genuine on that. However, people are still coming to us and repeatedly outlining concerns about the scale of tax avoidance that could be facilitated by the Bill. Therefore, it is important that we continue to pursue the matter, even at this late stage, and be given assurances on it.

Towers Watson has said that Ministers seem “sanguine” on this matter. I am sure that the Minister is not sanguine in any shape or form about the potential for tax avoidance, that he would want to close any loopholes and that he would want to send a clear message that it was not his intention that the Bill be used for any attempt at tax avoidance. That is particularly the case because, as has been repeated again today, tax revenues and the take into the Exchequer are falling, because of some of the Government’s other economic policies, particularly on wages and the impact on income tax and national insurance. It is not as though the Exchequer is going to be able to afford to lose hundreds of millions of pounds of tax income.

Interestingly, the written evidence from Towers Watson cited the Minister’s assurance that

“the government will be closely monitoring behaviour under the new system”,

and will take action “if loss accelerates” Towers Watson’s evidence suggests that it is very likely that action will be required. Complementing the AAT estimates of how much tax could be lost if individuals use salary sacrifice before they have accessed their pensions flexibly, Towers Watson provides an estimate of how much tax could be lost after a pension has been accessed flexibly and the money purchase annual allowance imposed. Towers Watson’s projection returns us to the point made by Ian Swales and shows why we have pursued this matter vigorously. Towers Watson states that

“if £10,000 of salary is given up in exchange for an employer pension contribution, the employer could pay £1,380 less National Insurance while the employee would pay between £200 and £1,200 less”.

Although the annual allowance does not altogether remove the scope for tax avoidance, it does have a limiting effect, which of course we welcome. The crucial point made by Towers Watson, however, is that this is not a potential tax avoidance opportunity that has been “dreamt up by accountants”, but one that could be “created by legislation” before us today.

Taxpayers and employers need to know whether the Government will regard the diversion of salary through pensions as legitimate. Some people have suggested that the Government drafted the legislation oblivious to the loophole they were creating and that when they realised the consequences, they came up with the money purchase annual allowance rules as a partial stop-gap. I am inclined to be slightly more generous, because I am sure that the Government were very conscientious in drafting the Bill and gave consideration to all its component parts. I am sure that the Minister will reassure us on that point in his response. I know that he is concerned about the potential for tax avoidance, because he has repeatedly told us that he will “closely monitor behaviour” under the new system and that he will work with the industry to ensure that the system remains “fair and proportionate”.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

I am following the hon. Lady’s argument closely. Is she suggesting that this Bill creates new avenues for employer contributions to pension schemes? As I understand it, what she describes is available in the current system.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope the Minister will provide a clear steer to people about what would be acceptable both to employers and employees. I would also be interested to learn what he plans to do if the system turns out not to be fair and proportionate, and what form the monitoring will take. That is why we have proposed new clause 1. We did debate the matter in Committee, but we are still concerned that we have not heard exactly how the monitoring will take place and what the Minister intends to do.

Essentially, new clause 1 asks the Government to commit to doing something that the Minister has already said that they would do—to monitor and review the reforms to ensure that they are not used for the purpose of tax avoidance. We simply want that commitment in the Bill, to ensure that there are reports back to the House.

When we first debated the issue, concerns were raised about the time scale in which we were asking for the review. We had not, at that stage, fully anticipated how long it would be before patterns were established and problems had manifested themselves, which is why the new clause includes a two-year-time frame.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West

Did I hear my hon. Friend correctly when she said that the Minister was minded to carry out a review of precisely the areas that we have suggested in new clauses 1 and 2? If so, will the Minister make that clear in his reply to my hon. Friend, because then we could avoid a vote on the new clause?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said, we did have some of this debate in Committee. I know that the Minister, at various stages, has said that everything is under review and that all things are reviewed. What we seek to do is to put some structure around that so that all reports are brought back before the House.

I think I have made my point in previous Bill Committees and probably at the Dispatch Box as well. Even in my relatively short time in this place and on the Front Bench, I have seen Ministers come and go before my very eyes. I have no doubt that the Minister is concerned to ensure that he does the right thing and monitors what is happening, but it is important to have that commitment on behalf of the Government, which is why I have tabled the new clause.

New clause 2 would provide for a Treasury review of the Bill’s operation within 18 months of 6 April 2015. Such a review would include an analysis of its distributional impact by income decile, an analysis of the impact on Government revenues of changes to the taxation of pensions on death, a behavioural analysis and an analysis of the impact on the purchase of annuities. Any Bill that will have a significant impact on not only people’s lives, but the broader industry and the economy, must be based on evidence, engagement and analysis. We know from our probing in Committee why the Government announced the reforms without consultation, and the Minister explained his position on concerns about the impact on the market. However, it would be helpful to have some idea of whether the Government had carried out the behavioural analysis and impact assessment that we are requesting, and indeed of not only the extent to which that had been done, but what information they could set out. Those points have also been pursued by my hon. Friend Gregg McClymont, who worked tirelessly on the Pension Schemes Bill. That Bill includes provisions on the guidance guarantee, which is crucial to the Bill.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

Surely the purpose of such a review would be to drive action. We have an expectation of the Bill’s effect on the annuities market, so will the hon. Lady tell us how the results of the annuities aspect of her proposed review would affect a future Government’s actions? Does she think that it would make any difference to Government policy if there was a 10% or a 90% change in the purchase of annuities, because it seems to me that it would not?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The purpose of the monitoring is to determine whether the Bill has unintended consequences. We would want the process to deal with our concerns of whether the market responds to the changes and if the products that people have envisaged will be available. There is the oft-quoted example of what happened in Australia: people drew down money, but many found that they had not properly planned for the future.

The hon. Gentleman asks what the Government would do, but I think that the Government have a responsibility to keep all legislation under review by looking at its effects and examining whether measures are fit for purpose and if they do what they say on the tin. If changes need to be made, the Government of the day will bring forward appropriate provisions. They have a responsibility to makethemselves aware of any unintended consequences that might arise from the Bill and they should tell us how they will close any loopholes.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees with the TUC when it says that it believes that

“greater emphasis should be placed on developing strong default options at retirement. These may include a combination of drawdown and annuitisation.”

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. The Public Bill Committee examined what options will be available to people and how we can ensure that the balance is right so that they are encouraged not only to take up pensions at the earliest possible stage, such as through auto-enrolment, but to think about planning for their long-term future. The aim was to ensure that people would not think that there was a windfall at age 55, perhaps make wrong decisions about it, and find by their 75th birthday that they had not done the correct planning. The new clause is very much about trying to see how the provisions will impact on real people when the time comes for them to make these decisions. That is why we were talking about behavioural analysis; we want to ensure that lessons are learned from it.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 4:00 pm, 3rd December 2014

Surely we know the answer to the question prompted by new clause 2(2)(e), more or less; it is that dramatically fewer annuities will be purchased. Okay, a review might show that the figure is 12% as opposed to 90%, but what action would be taken pursuant to that answer?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a bit chicken-and-egg: until we do the analysis, we do not really know the extent of the problem. The solution would come once the problems were identified. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about annuities; that takes me back to the issue that I raised about the opportunity for new products. There is a relatively short period of time in which to develop them. The industry, of course, says that it will try to meet the “challenges”—it consistently uses that word—and ensure that there are options and products. None the less, I find it difficult to understand why the Government seem resistant to the new clauses.

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said that his novels were like icebergs:

“There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.”

Sometimes the same can be said of legislation, because the devil is in the detail. One has to see the detail, and be on top of it over a period, to find out what the ongoing impact is. That is why, throughout the passage of the Bill, we have tried to identify and probe any fault-lines on the surface of the legislation.

The guidance guarantee has been the subject of considerable debate, although it essentially formed part of the Pension Schemes Bill. Although we have now seen information on the overarching standards and the apportioning of the levy, published on Friday by the Financial Conduct Authority, we have yet to see all the content of that guarantee. Of course, that is the responsibility of the Government, in tandem with delivery partners. It is vital that the guidance is up and running, and is equal to consumer needs, come April next year. The FCA policy statement published on Friday confirmed that, at least initially, there will be no “second line of defence”, as it was described, which makes it even more important that the guidance is fit for purpose.

In the Public Bill Committee, I talked about the potential impact of the reforms on eligibility for social care. We identified two separate but related points on social care that we believe the Government have not yet adequately addressed. The first is the impact that drawing down money under flexi-access may have on an individual’s entitlement to means-tested benefits and eligibility for social care. The second is a point that I raised earlier: the danger that too much emphasis has been placed on early access to funds. That may result in people taking too much, too quickly, and being left with insufficient funds to cover the cost of care later in life. That is why our review calls for a distributional impact of the reforms by income decile. That is also why we need behavioural analysis. Signs may emerge that consumers are accessing their pensions earlier, which increases the chance that they may be left short of money in later life.

As we heard in Committee, many individuals who access their pension flexibly risk being hit with an unexpected tax bill—a point that the Association of British Insurers highlighted:

“Many people will struggle to understand the tax consequences of these reforms. Apart from tax free lump sums, withdrawals from pension pots are taxable pension income…Not only may people find themselves unexpectedly paying higher rate tax, it is possible that some will be unaware that their tax may not be settled for a year after they have accessed their funds through a self-assessment process that they may be unfamiliar with.”

These risks have to be monitored and reviewed, so that any unintended consequences can be picked up and dealt with.

We also need to see—this comes back to the point raised earlier—whether the Bill results in a proliferation of new products. The impact of such products on consumer behaviour should be monitored. In its 2014 risk outlook the Financial Conduct Authority expressed concern that

“retirement income products and distribution may deliver poor customer outcomes”.

It said:

“While recent proposals for pension reform plan to allow consumers to access any amount of their pension pot at age 55, the need for consumers to understand the options available to them at retirement is still paramount. Any future innovation in decumulation products will compound these risks.”

The FCA was, again, trying to look to the future. We share those concerns. We do not want poor outcomes for consumers, and I am sure the Minister does not want that either.

A further issue is that new products may carry additional charges that eat away at an individual’s pension. Research from the House of Commons Library found that current income drawdown products could see 27% of an average pension pot of £30,000 eaten up in fees and charges. If the reforms lead to continued abuse of charges, the Government may have to consider the introduction of a charge cap.

The changes made in schedule 2 abolish the 55% tax on pension funds on the death of the member. We can see the Government’s reasons for doing this, but it would be worth monitoring the impact on consumer behaviour and Government revenue.

I said that I wanted to ask the Minister some particular questions in relation to the autumn statement and the figures that had been published. Throughout the Committee stage, when we were pressing for information and numbers, the Minister said that those would be published in due course. True to his word, that information is now available to us. What effect will the revisions have on the initial costings of the impact of these reforms? Has he had cause to reconsider the impact of the reforms? Can he explain why the tax take increases because of the annual allowance in 2015-16, but falls in subsequent years? What is the basis for those figures?

Can the Minister give us any more detail about the costing of the salary sacrifice and welfare forecast provisions? The numbers are there, but we do not have further information in the autumn statement policy costing document. In comparison to some of the figures provided in Committee, the estimates still seem low. Given that the Minister has revised his forecast to take into account salary sacrifice and welfare at such short notice that it is not included in the autumn statement documents, had the Government fully considered those factors when they initially drew up these reforms, or did they only later recognise the significance of those factors?

We have asked for a review, as set out in new clause 1, to show whether the Bill increases the scope for tax avoidance and the avoidance of national insurance contributions. In the light of the figures that have been published, is the Minister confident that all his projections will prove to be accurate?

I have had a fair opportunity to set out the case for new clauses 1 and 2, which will allow the Minister to keep his word and monitor, review and report information as appropriate. It is important that the clauses are added to the Bill to ensure that that happens. We need to keep a close watch on the progress of the reforms to make sure that they do not lead to adverse outcomes for consumers or place increased costs on the state. The Government have consistently assured us that they will closely monitor the impact of the Bill, so we see no reason why, even at this late stage, they cannot commit to make good on that assurance and accept the new clauses.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

I rise to speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru and in support of amendment (a), which stands in my name, to Labour’s new clause 2. I agree with much of that new clause, but I wish to add that the Government should bring forward a report on the impact of the changes introduced by the Bill specifically on the housing market and introduce measures to rectify any problems, should it become apparent that there are negative consequences. I sincerely hope that my concerns are entirely unfounded.

Although we welcome the Government’s desire to reform the private pensions system, we in Plaid Cymru have concerns about the consequences of behavioural changes in the pensions industry, particularly in relation to individual pensioners taking large draw-downs of money. We are not against pension savers being able to access their pension pots as a lump sum. If that is how people wish to access their money, it is up to them to do as they see fit. Given the rates of return achieved these days, it is not surprising that many people will wish to take that route.

Our concern is that the effect might not be quite what the Government intend. Aside from consumer protection issues and stopping people being targeted by sharks and cowboys seeking to exploit those who are newly able to access comparatively large amounts of money, attention needs to be given to the longer-term possibility that those who draw down large amounts and whose subsequent investments fail, for whatever reason, will be left with little or no money on which to see out their final years, despite having contributed to a pension scheme for most of their lives, and that they will then become a burden on the public purse. It is fair enough to say that the buyer should beware, but we are not talking about purchasing a new television; a wrong decision in this case might have grave, long-term effects on people’s basic incomes.

As has already been mentioned, in Australia, where the Government have introduced changes similar to those intended here, many people took large draw-downs and invested the money in buy-to-let properties. As the

TUC has noted, much evidence indicates that the same will happen here, despite Ministers’ talk of people making home improvements, buying new kitchens or going out and buying cars and other consumer goods that will boost the productive economy.

Research by the Australian investment management firm Challenger has found that one third of savers used their pension cash to buy a home, pay off an outstanding mortgage or make home improvements; one in five splashed out on a new car; and one in seven spent at least some of their pension on a holiday. The evidence from Australia is that, when given the choice, only one in 25 Australians now buy an annuity. In the US, another country where annuities are not mandatory, most people take their pension money as cash, rather than buying an annuity. Indeed, a buy-to-let property might appear to be one of the better options for many people, rather than keeping their money in their pension scheme or making other, more conservative investments.

Some large accountancy firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, have said that the changes to the annuities system will be a net positive for the Treasury. They perhaps foresee the revenue raised through stamp duty and other associated taxes. But it is not the Treasury’s coffers that will suffer, at least not in the short term. It is the potential bubble in house prices that concerns me, particularly at a local level, and the potentially growing number of people who would then be unable to buy their own home, the strengthening of the historical over-reliance of the British economy on a buoyant housing market, and the potential effects on investors’ incomes should, or rather when, the bubble bursts.

I need hardly remind the House of the dangers of an over-inflated property market, of which buy-to-let is a significant factor, and indeed one of the significant causes of the financial crash in 2008. Even prior to the crash, in August 2007, Oxford Economics noted that buy to let

“is undoubtedly contributing to the overvaluation of housing.”

Were I cynical, I might even characterise inflation of the housing market as some sort of giant Ponzi scheme, helping to keep the economy afloat while doing little to contribute to productive capital, the epitome of the rentier society—if I was cynical.

Of more significance to my constituents, and to people throughout Wales and the more picturesque areas of the UK, is the potential that those taking large draw-downs would decide to buy holiday homes. I need not rehearse in any detail the arguments about the problems associated with an over-preponderance of holiday homes. Hon. Members who represent constituencies where that is a problem will be only too aware of the negative effects. Anyone who really wants to know about it might read my maiden speech from 2001, which addressed housing matters and this problem, in particular. To put it briefly, having too many holiday homes in an area has a negative, deadweight effect on the local economy. Local people, especially young people, are unable to afford homes because of price inflation and are forced to leave. In my constituency, and in much of rural Wales, there is the added dimension of the damaging effect that has on the Welsh language. We have been largely spared some of those effects over the years of economic difficulty, but now, if the Chancellor is to be believed, we are moving towards a new golden age of plenty, possibly financed in part by pension lump sums, with a consequent revival of these risks.

I do not wish to over-egg the pudding, but I draw the Minister’s attention to the previous Labour Government’s proposal to allow tax relief on self-invested pension plans for any investment, including old master paintings, fine wines, and, indeed, holiday homes. I argued at the time that this might allow potential holiday home investors to benefit from up to 40% tax relief on such an investment, and price local people out of the market. I well remember two initially slightly frosty, and then rather stormy, meetings with the then Treasury Minister, Ruth Kelly. I was aided in the first by Simon Thomas, the then MP for Ceredigion, and joined in the second by Andrew George. Ruth Kelly assured us that we need not bother our heads with such concerns because any tax advantage would be mopped up by other means. A few short weeks before the provision was to be brought in, it was withdrawn.

I make no claims about that, but I would not wish the current Minister to suffer such a post-legislative fate this time. That is the reason for this probing amendment calling for an analysis of the effects on the housing market. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West 4:15 pm, 3rd December 2014

I am pleased to take part in the Report stage of a Bill that we discussed at some length in Committee, as my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson will know. She has led for us throughout with such conscientiousness and command of detail that we probably do not need to labour further the points that we have pressed on the Minister. I am pleased that Hywel Williams has added to our thinking on new clause 2 by suggesting that the effect on the housing market, in particular, should be kept under strict review.

I fear that the Minister is not going to accept either new clause, so I ask him to make a clear statement on the areas where the Bill is likely to have an impact, with potentially severe economic consequences. In the light of the Chancellor’s autumn statement earlier today, we see just how severe the problems on the deficit and Government borrowing are. If the Bill is going to have a further major impact in terms of tax receipts—which are already disappointingly low, as the Minister himself must recognise, being very well acquainted with that area of the Treasury’s affairs—it needs to be regularly reviewed.

In pushing for the changes we propose, we are merely doing what any responsible Opposition may do. I am surprised that the Minister is so reticent about sharing these important matters with the House. As the hon. Member for Arfon said, the consequences in the housing market could be quite severe, particularly in the buy-to-rent sector. In Committee, I mentioned to him anecdotal information that I had received from the housing market in strongly Conservative areas such as Buckinghamshire. House prices are already rising, and this aspect needs to be reviewed.

The point that we made very strongly throughout the Committee stage is that this is an unknown area where there is a fear of scams and abuses emerging—mis-selling and such things that have characterised so much of the industry in the past. Even now, we are still clearing up some of the mess from those previous schemes that went so horribly wrong. Not only that, but looking at this from the point of view of economic management, big sums are involved. I have talked to pension fund and investment fund managers, and they are looking forward to it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has made clear, we welcome the Bill. We are not opposed to it in principle, but we want to make sure that it has the effects that are foreseen as regards flexibility and making greater independence available to very many people throughout the country. It is in the spirit of not just avoiding abuses, but ensuring that the Bill does not become counter-productive or have exactly the detrimental consequences that other Bills of this kind have had that we urge the Minister to accept, even at this late stage, both new clause 1 and new clause 2. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to repeat that point on Report.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I do not intend to detain the House unduly, but I want to speak briefly in support of new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson. I also do not intend to give too much advance notice of my Adjournment debate, which I will have the pleasure of holding later and to which I know that the House is looking forward with considerable interest.

My hon. Friend made an important point about the haste with which some of the changes have been introduced and the impact that that can have. The Government may be entirely well meaning, but such changes can have unintended consequences, and I shall refer to some of them in more detail later.

If I had been contacted by my constituents and had a response from the Minister a few weeks or months earlier, there might have been an appropriate opportunity to propose that the issue was looked into in relation to the Bill, but perhaps there will be an opportunity to consider such issues in the other place.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Robinson, who speaks with tremendous knowledge on these issues. He was absolutely right to focus on the way in which some industries operated in the past, and the extent to which the financial services industry had some very negative selling practices back in the deregulatory period of the 1980s. I am pleased that the industry, with Government assistance, has very much got its house in order.

We would be well advised to think about the impact of the changes on the professionalism of very important industries such as financial services. If decisions are not taken in professional enough a way, they can have massive effects on people at the time in their life when they take their pension. Back in the 1980s, there was a huge explosion of private pensions, with people—mineworkers or teachers—advised to give up their pensions. They were told, “No, if you give up your pension, you can opt in to one of these private schemes, with 15% growth every year.” There was a huge mis-selling scandal.

I previously worked—briefly, and largely unheralded—in the financial services industry. I was not necessarily particularly suited for the job, which highlights a point about people being invited into the industry. They were dragged into it on the basis of knowing friends that they could go and sell pensions to. People with very little knowledge came into the industry. Their business plan was based on phoning all their friends and relatives to encourage them to give up their pensions in reliable public sector or other schemes and to go in to private schemes. There was of course a huge explosion, and many of the people in the schemes were seen to have been given very poor advice.

We recognise what the Government are attempting to achieve, and we support their aims of having greater flexibility for the industry, allowing people to be put back in charge of their investment and ensuring that they have the freedom to decide what to do with the money that they have saved. However, we are also aware of why the annuities method of accessing pensions that people had invested in was introduced. We as a society decided that, in an age when people were living longer and longer, we wanted people to make provision for themselves and, having done so, to buy something that provided a regular income that they could rely on.

If we have a scheme in which people decide what to invest their pension funds in, but, with the best of intentions, those investments go wrong, the people who we thought had provided for themselves in later life will come back to the state and say, “Unfortunately, the investments that I made with my pension pot have gone wrong and I have run out of money.” That will have an impact on the Government. We recognise what the Government are attempting to achieve, but it would be sensible to have a review of how it is working, the impact of the changes on the behaviour of investors, the impact on Government revenues, the impact on the broader economy, and what behaviours are being encouraged and introduced by the changes.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is also a reputational danger for the industry in general and for the entire system of retirement pensions if people who make honest and sincere investments find that the returns are non-existent or that the investment itself disappears, and find themselves not being at leisure in their 70s, but working, like people I know.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Absolutely; the hon. Gentleman is right. There was a huge rush of those issues coming to light at the back end of the last century, when people who believed that they had saved into corporate pensions found that the company had disappeared and so had their pension.

When we are debating these issues and supporting the Government in this important initiative, we must be conscious that it must not end up with people effectively gambling with the income that they will rely on, without being aware of the risks. It is important that protections are in place to ensure that when people make such decisions, they have the information and know what they are letting themselves in for. It must be clear not only what impact it will have on them and their future, but what impact it will have on Government resources and revenues.

The FCA risk outlook of 2014 stated:

“Retirement income products and distribution may deliver poor consumer outcomes”.

That means that the Government recognise the dangers that we are highlighting, which adds more weight to the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for a review of the impact on Government revenue and a review of who is affected, with a

“distributional impact, by income decile of the population”.

The other thing that we must all be conscious of is that this change must not result in an industry that services only the very rich. Financial advice is important. If it becomes the preserve of the very rich, many people will be left out of the market, especially the self-employed, who often see their business as their pension and so never go down the route of choosing financial services products.

In supporting my hon. Friend’s call for a review of the impact of the changes, I wanted to flag up the debate that we will be having later and to put it in the context of the taxation of pensions. I have secured today’s Adjournment debate on the impact of such measures on public sector workers who transferred to the private sector when their public sector job was transferred. They are protected under transfer of undertakings protocols. However, as many staff at CSC in Chesterfield who previously worked for Royal Mail discovered, when they were made redundant, the changes hastily introduced by the Government in 2012-13 meant that although they left their pension with Royal Mail when they were transferred and opened a new pension with CSC, that new pension was treated as a second pension. As far as they were concerned, they sat in the same desks and did the same job. The name above the door may have changed from Royal Mail to CSC—although in this case it did not in practical terms—but those staff were classed as having two different jobs and therefore two different pensions.

Taxation on those schemes was set up to recognise a fair balance and provide Government support for people to invest in pensions. At the same time, people were investing huge amounts and receiving a fair amount of rebate, although not an excessive amount. Many employees in my constituency—and, I suspect, other public sector employees across the country—are being taxed because they were made redundant, and they will get a pension for a short period until their original pension kicks in at the age of 60. In practical terms they are receiving an annuity over several years, but the Treasury judges that as a one-off lump sum payment. People are taxed as though they have received a huge amount of money, when in practical terms a huge amount of money has been put aside for the next 10, 15, 20 or however many years it may be. In some cases people have paid as much as £200,000 tax on a payment that is not in their pocket at that time.

I do not want to preview the Adjournment debate too widely, although we do want to generate interest in it, but my case is that although the Government have attempted to introduce steps to alleviate such impacts, they are actually mitigating the unfairness rather than dealing with its cause, which is the way the Treasury taxes pensions that are effectively a second pension on the same job because of changes made by someone’s employer, rather than any decision by the employee.

I hope that the Minister will consider whether those issues might wisely be investigated within the rules on taxation of pension, although I recognise that we will not debate that today. New clause 2 is important to ensure a review of what is being proposed. Although that review will be conducted by my right hon. Friend Ed Balls, because he will be Chancellor by the time the new clause is implemented in 2017, we must ensure that our pensions policy has no unintended consequences such as we have seen before on occasion.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:30 pm, 3rd December 2014

This may not be the most prominent Treasury matter gripping the nation today, but as Cathy Jamieson said, it is none the less an important Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity to make further progress and respond to this debate.

New clauses 1 and 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, require the Treasury to publish two reviews of the impact of the Bill. The first review would focus on Exchequer revenues, including the use of salary sacrifice arrangements, income tax receipts and national insurance contributions. The second review would include the distributional impacts by income decile of the population of the pensions flexibility measures; the impact on Exchequer revenue of measures contained within schedule 2, which makes various changes to the taxation of pensions at death; a behavioural analysis; an analysis of the cumulative impact on Exchequer revenues; and an analysis of the impact on the purchase of annuities. An amendment has been tabled by Hywel Williams, which would, as we have heard, require the Government to undertake an analysis of the impact of the changes introduced in the Bill on the housing market.

I would like to explain—I suspect this will not come as a huge shock to hon. Members—why the new clauses are unnecessary. There are a number of reasons. First, on considering new clause 1 and the parts of new clause 2 that relate to Exchequer revenues, it is important to note that the Government have today published estimates of the Exchequer impacts of the policy as a whole. These costings, which have been certified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, cover all the changes we have made to the policy since Budget as a result of consultation. I know hon. Members have been concerned about the potential consequences for the Exchequer of the new freedoms. The Government published costings at Budget. I have been clear that we would update the costings to reflect the policy decisions that have been taken since then. A great deal of the debate has rightly focused on that issue.

The Government have taken a number of policy decisions since pension flexibility was announced in March. Those decisions are: introducing a £10,000 annual allowance for those who have flexibly accessed a pension pot of more than £10,000; changing the rules on the taxation of pensions at death; and continuing to allow transfers out of funded defined benefit schemes. Today, as part of the autumn statement, the Government have also confirmed that the notional income rules for assessing eligibility for means-tested benefits will be more generous by assuming that unspent pension savings generate the same income as an annuity, rather than 150% of an annuity as at present. Of course, not all of these measures are contained within the Bill, but I believe that they are relevant to any debate on the fiscal impacts of flexibility. To ensure the Government are being sufficiently transparent, I have today taken the step of writing to members of the former Public Bill Committee to set out further details of the costings. I will now outline those costings to the House.

At Budget 2014, the Government published costings that stated that freedom of choice would cost the Exchequer minus £5 million in 2014-15, and from then on would raise money: £320 million in 2015-16, £600 million in 2016-17, £910 million in 2017-18, £1.22 billion in 2018-19, and £810 million in 2019-20. The overall impact of decisions taken since the policy was announced in March does not significantly alter the numbers published at Budget. As set out in my letter to the Committee and in table 2.1 of the autumn statement document, the decisions I have just described will have the following Exchequer impacts: they will raise £60 million in 2015-16, cost £25 million in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, raise £30 million in 2018-19, and cost £10 million in 2019-20. Further detail on how those costs have been calculated is set out in the policy costings document, which has been published today alongside the autumn statement.

In my letter to Committee members, I explained that the costings published today as part of the autumn statement were based on the same central assumptions that underpinned the costings published at the Budget. Since the Budget, the Government have explored in more detail two aspects of the policy affecting the costing: the increased costs of salary sacrifice and welfare as a result of the reforms—two points that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun dwelt on. The Government have produced these costings and they have been scrutinised by the OBR.

In line with standard practice, these are accounted for as changes to the forecast and so are not outlined in table 2.1 of the autumn statement document. In recognition of the concern raised by Members about the likely impact on the Exchequer, I included the Government’s estimate of the costs in my letter to the Committee, but I will set them out again to the House. The revisions to the forecast to account for salary sacrifice are: minus £5 million in 2014-15; minus £35 million in 2015-16; minus £30 million in 2016-17; and minus £25 million in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20. The revisions to the forecast to account for the increased cost of welfare are: minus £10 million in 2015-16; minus £15 million in 2016-17; minus £20 million in 2017-18; and minus £25 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Government have, therefore, already published the information the two new clauses seek on the Exchequer impacts of the various aspects of flexibility, and all that information has been certified by the independent OBR. In addition, the Government have already committed to keeping the policy under review, through the monitoring of information collected on tax returns and tax records, and HMRC regularly publishes data on tax receipts reflecting any impact on the Exchequer. Any such impacts will be reflected in forecasts at fiscal events.

The Government keep tax policy under continual review. There is no need for further reviews of the Exchequer impacts of the policy, because the Government have already committed to keeping them under review through usual processes, and I hope that this will reassure hon. Members regarding the fiscal impacts of measures in the Bill and related policies. At the very least, I hope hon. Members will appreciate that, given this debate has occurred after the autumn statement, I have been able to provide some of the answers the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun was seeking in Committee.

New clause 2 would also require the Government to review the distributional impact of the measures in the Bill no less than 18 months after the Bill takes effect. As I set out in Committee, the measures in the Bill do not have a direct consequential impact on household incomes. Distributional effects will be driven by the choices individuals make about how and when to take their pension. In addition, household income is not necessarily a reliable measure of pension wealth, particularly in the years immediately prior to retirement. The impacts of the policy could be misrepresented were we to review them only against the distribution of household income. I appreciate I made that argument in Committee, but it was a good argument then, and it is a good argument now.

In addition, new clause 2 would require the Government to publish behavioural analysis. As discussed in Committee, the costing of tax policies often involves an assessment of the behavioural impacts of the measure and, in some cases, the capacity for additional tax planning and avoidance behaviour. These assumptions and methodologies are certified by the independent OBR, but the Treasury considers that making these detailed behavioural assumptions public might affect the behaviour they relate to and so could be detrimental to policy making.

As I mentioned in relation to the Exchequer impact of the changes to the taxation of pensions at death, a policy costing note published alongside the autumn statement explains how the costings have been calculated. This is in line with the principles outlined in the Government document, “Tax policy making: a new approach”, published alongside the June 2010 Budget.

New clause 2 would require the Government to review any impact the measures in the Bill might have on the volume of annuity purchases. Considering the policy intent of the changes, this would be unnecessary and inappropriate. These measures are not intended to encourage savers towards or away from any particular product over another. They are intended to offer savers greater choice and flexibility about how they use their hard-earned savings to fund their retirement.

The Government have always said that they believe annuities will continue to be the right choice for many people at some point in their retirement, as many people will value the security of the guaranteed income. However, the Government do not believe it appropriate to mandate that individuals should use their lifetime savings to purchase any one specific financial product. As I set out in Committee, data on the sale of annuities will continue to be available through other channels—the data published by trade bodies and publications by individual firms, for example—and there is no need for the Government to duplicate this.

A further amendment has been tabled by the hon. Member for Arfon, which would require the Government to undertake

“an analysis of the impact of the changes introduced by this Act on the housing market”.

This appears to stem from a concern that the Government’s changes will have an adverse impact on the housing market. With greater choice and flexibility at the point of retirement, people will be allowed to make a decision about their finances that is right for them. This Government are committed to making the aspiration of home ownership a reality for as many people as possible. That is why they have introduced policies such as Help to Buy and further measures announced in the Budget to support the supply of housing. As part of the new regulatory framework for financial services, the Government have introduced the Financial Policy Committee to ensure that risks stemming from the housing market are identified and early mitigating action taken, if required.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar 4:45 pm, 3rd December 2014

Does the Minister recognise that the point at which many people draw their pensions, particularly the lump sum element, is the very point at which they might wish to help their children get into the housing market, and that we should not do anything to prevent that?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend makes an important and relevant point. We are putting power in the hands of individuals to decide what they do with their retirement pension pot. We are also ensuring—I shall touch on this in a moment—that guidance is available. It may well be that after careful consideration, people conclude that they do want to assist a family member to get into the housing market. That is a choice for them, and I do not think that we here should necessarily condemn such a choice: it might be precisely the right thing for people to do for them and their family.

As part of the new regulatory framework for financial services, we have introduced the Financial Policy Committee, as I was saying, and we have given the FPC strong powers to tackle any threat to financial stability, including a broad power of recommendation, which it used in June 2014 to address risks stemming from mortgage lending and sectoral capital requirements that apply to residential mortgage lending. The Government have consulted on granting the FPC powers of direction over macro-prudential tools for the housing market and aim to legislate for these new powers next year. In line with the new regulatory framework, the FPC is best placed to monitor the housing market and take action, if required.

Let me pick some other points raised in the debate, most of which it would be fair to say were familiar. I was asked whether people would understand the tax consequences involved. The guidance will help consumers to understand the tax implications of their choice of pension, and in addition, the Financial Conduct Authority has published near final rules that will require providers to supply their customers with a description of the possible tax implications when they apply to access their pension funds.

On extortionate draw-down charges, the FCA’s retirement income market study will be published shortly. In June, the FCA expanded the scope of this study to include consideration of products in the new flexible landscape and to identify any competition risks and potential consumer detriment. The guidance guarantee will be relevant here.

It was suggested that people might be charged too much tax without realising it. As with all PAYE income, the tax position will be reconciled at the end of the tax year. All the income received by an individual that was taxed under PAYE will be brought together, and the correct tax will then be calculated. If there was an overpayment, the extra amount will be repaid, and if there was an underpayment, HMRC will contact the individual. People will not be subject to self-assessment solely because they have flexibly accessed their pensions, nor will they have to claim a refund in order to receive it.

I have already touched on the matter of how the new flexibilities will affect entitlements to benefits, but let me say now that the Government want to ensure that the choice that people make between taking their pensions as income—that is, purchasing an annuity and keeping more of their pension as capital—and drawing it down periodically, for example through a drawdown product, will not have a significant impact on how they are assessed for social care support and how their means are assessed for social security purposes. New regulations and statutory guidance on the Care Act 2014, which were published on 23 October, include details about the charging rules for care and support.

Today we announced a change in the rules for people above pension credit qualifying age who claim means-tested benefits. The notional income amount applied to pension pots that have not been used to purchase an annuity will be reduced from 150% to 100% of the income of an equivalent annuity—or the actual income taken, if that is higher—in line with the rules for care and support.

Let me now deal with an issue that was raised by the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I shall not try to anticipate the response that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will make to the Adjournment debate that the hon. Gentleman will initiate later, but I can say that these matters are not being rushed. We have consulted extensively on the implementation of the policy, and there is widespread support for the changes. We are working closely with industry to ensure that it is ready for April 2015, and have been doing so since the announcement was made. We are making good progress in delivering the changes that are needed through both our Bills.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I realise that the Minister does not want to predict the outcome of a debate to which we all look forward with such interest, but will he tell us whether the taxation of pensions element of that debate could be considered during further stages of the Bill’s progress?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We are reaching the end of the Commons process, or at least I hope we are. We believe that the Bill delivers the reforms that are necessary to implement the policy announcement that the Chancellor made in the last Budget. We believe that these are good reforms, and we believe that the new flexibility in the pensions system is to be welcomed and will encourage greater savings. Let me add that some perceive Opposition Members’ desire for a review as the precursor of a possible reversal of these changes by the Opposition, were they to be in government. I would not like that to happen, and their proposals create a degree of uncertainty.

I hope that, in the light of the explanations that I have given to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, she will not press her new clause to a Division, but if she does, I will certainly oppose it.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The new clauses ask for reviews and monitoring, and that is exactly what we want. As we have said repeatedly during the Bill’s passage so far, our proposals should not be interpreted in any other way. When a Bill is put before us, it is important for us to scrutinise it and try to improve it, and that was my reason for tabling the new clauses.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Robinson, my hon. Friend Toby Perkins and Hywel Williams for their contributions. All of them have contributed additional information and raised additional issues which need to be considered, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, who will initiate an Adjournment debate later. He did not want to reveal too much about that debate, lest we decide to miss his exciting speech. None the less, he did an excellent job in laying out some of the issues that he will refer to later on behalf of his constituents.

I have listened to the Minister. I am disappointed—as always—that he has not chosen to accept new clause 1 and new clause 2. On reflection, having listened to the debate, I am minded to press new clause 1 to the vote, but not to press new clause 2 at this stage.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 209, Noes 292.

Division number 105 Business of the House — New Clause 1 — Impact on Government revenues

Aye: 209 MPs

No: 292 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.