Examination of Witnesses

Pension Schemes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:31 am on 23rd October 2014.

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Chris Curry, Dr Ros Altmann and Jane Vass gave evidence.

Photo of Linda Riordan Linda Riordan Labour, Halifax 12:16 pm, 23rd October 2014

We will now hear evidence from Chris Curry, director, Pensions Policy Institute, Dr Ros Altmann, pensions expert, and Jane Vass, head of public policy, Age UK. For this session we only have until 1 pm. Would the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Chris Curry: Good afternoon. My name is Chris Curry. I am director of the Pensions Policy Institute.

Dr Ros Altmann: Good afternoon. I am Ros Altmann. I am an independent adviser on pension issues and the business champion for older workers.

Jane Vass: I am Jane Vass, head of public policy at Age UK.

Photo of Linda Riordan Linda Riordan Labour, Halifax

Thank you. I will now take questions from Members.

Q 198

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Perhaps we will start with you, Dr Altmann. Could you talk us through what you think the guidance guarantee could achieve to help protect people in choosing their retirement income?

Dr Ros Altmann: Certainly in theory the guidance guarantee is something we have needed for many years. We have needed consumers to have somebody to talk to, to discuss the options they face at retirement and what to do with their pension pot. Clearly, with the reforms we have had there will be an increase, potentially, in the options available. Until now you had the binary choice. When you have a DC pot you either buy an annuity or an income draw-down product. There is likely to be a wider range of products.

However, even with just the annuity and draw-down choice, this was not a simple decision. Many people, sadly, did not understand what different types of annuities were available and the industry simply offered people what it called a standard annuity. That was wholly unsuitable for many of the people who bought them. Had they had guidance, they would have had a much fairer chance of understanding what type of annuity to buy, not just focusing on getting the best rate for the wrong annuity but actually getting a good rate for the right annuity.

I would hope that the existence of guidance will ensure that more people are able to make a better informed decision about what is best for them to do with their pension fund. For many people, the decision might be to do nothing at the moment and leave the money invested. However, I am concerned that there is a serious risk that not enough people will receive the guidance, even though it is on offer, certainly at the beginning because this is all very new. I would very much like to see additional safeguards to protect consumers, beyond relying on the guidance that we already know many people may not take up.

Q 199

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

What would those additional safeguards be?

Dr Ros Altmann: I would like to see—it is something we have needed for many years—an obligation on whoever is selling somebody a product at retirement to comply properly with the Treating Customers Fairly rules that already exist. I fear that the regulation of this sales process has failed to understand how consumers think, how they work and what they need. In theory, you have TCF rule No. 1—consumers must be confident that they are dealing with someone for whom the fair treatment of them is central—but that does not necessarily seem to have applied in the past. Rule No. 2 is that products are designed to meet their needs and are “targeted accordingly”. Once again, I do not see how selling a standard annuity has really complied with that in the first place. I would certainly like to see something tightened up there. Rule No. 3 is that consumers are “provided with clear information” so that they understand what product they are buying.

In my view, the sales process has consistently failed the customer from the TCF angle. We might address that by requiring providers to ensure that products being bought are suitable. They cannot possibly know whether an annuity sold to someone is suitable unless they ask some relevant questions. There is no requirement to ask someone, “Have you had cancer? Have you had heart trouble or diabetes?” There are people with terminal cancer who have bought a standard annuity which assumes they have a healthy life expectancy. All it would take is a question of that nature before the product was sold. It is so important because annuities, once sold, are  pretty much irreversible. I would call on the FCA to ensure that providers are required to treat customers properly and fairly, and to have this safeguard so that if you do not get the guidance, someone will at least take notice of your circumstances when you buy a product and help you with what questions to consider before committing.

Q 200

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

My first question is for Chris. We will no doubt discuss the issue of governance, and I think you heard the argument this morning that, “The only good governance is trust governance. Trust good, contract bad.” Indeed, so unsatisfactory is contract-based governance according to that argument that CDC should only be set up under trust. Do you think it is as stark as that?


So how does the situation of the frozen pension policy fit in with your idea of good governance Mt Webb ? Perhaps you would prefer not to answer that given that you condone this discrimination by your inclusion of Clause 20 in...

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Chris Curry: It is always difficult to rule out any particular form of governance. Internationally, especially in the collective DC area, most schemes tend to be set up on a trust basis. That is mainly because it seems more obvious; someone is acting in the interest of the members. One really important feature of CDC is strong governance and someone acting on behalf of all members with a clear, single responsibility to that group. The trust-based model lends itself to that. However, I would not say that is impossible in any other form of model. As we heard, there are some well-governed with-profits funds which have operated on a contract basis as they go through. I do not think you could explicitly rule out a whole class. You would have to be very careful about how it was set up. What is really important is the alignment of interests. In any type of collective arrangement, you would need someone within that scheme with real power and authority who is acting in the members’ best interests. At the moment, that generally operates very easily within a trust-based system, but you would not have to exclude all other forms to ensure it definitely happened.

Q 201

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Thank you. Ros, you were very supportive of the new freedoms the morning after the Budget. Lots of people contact you, and I am guessing that you have been contacted by people who missed out. It would be interesting to get a sense from you of how big this issue is for people who locked into annuities before the changes came in. How strong is the case for finding some way of addressing their concerns?

Dr Ros Altmann: I have had a significant number of e-mails and communications from people who locked into annuities in the year or two before the changes were announced and who desperately want to undo the deal. That is sometimes because they are very ill or, having seen the headlines, have suddenly realised that an annuity was not an appropriate product for them at all or they bought the wrong type and want to change it. I do feel very sorry for them, having watched the annuity market as it developed over the last two or three years, and tried to warn of the poor value that many people suffered as a result, or the lack of any protection to ensure that the annuities being bought were actually suitable for the people buying them, and that they even needed to buy one at the time. Many were still working and they just thought, when they got their letter from their pension company saying that they had reached pension age,  they had to do something. In many cases they did not. Sometimes they might have been penalised if they had not done so, but in many cases that would not apply either.

So I think if there were a way in which annuities could be undone it would be very popular among a number of customers, and I have even had many people suggesting to me they do not mind if they have to pay a penalty. If they have received back X pounds, they do not mind having to pay or being assumed to have received somewhat more than they have actually had—just to get the balance of their fund back. They have urgent reasons why they might want that; if they had only known.

I understand, too, that it is very difficult for companies that have sold a product like this under contract, which is completely irreversible, and have made business plans on that basis, to consider how to unwind the deal, but I would imagine it is not impossible if the will is there; and especially if there are people who have clearly been sold an unsuitable annuity, I would think the case is very strong for looking into that.

Q 202

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

May I ask three questions? First, given the new rules on annuities, is much of the benefit of this Bill going to be taken away, because the new rules are really much more important to the consumer? If not, what do you estimate the take-up of collective DC schemes to be?

Dr Altmann, when you spoke initially about the guidance guarantee to one of my colleagues, a moment ago, you expressed some hope that it would be taken up. I suppose I am looking for a confidence level, and what we should do to make sure that confidence level is better.

Thirdly, I take your point about the end process where you do income draw-down, but could you not argue that, through the life, a CDC is effectively less transparent than an ordinary DC scheme to the average member? It may or may not be more transparent if you have the right trustees in place, but then that begs the question whether we have enough people to be the right trustees, and whether those trustees choose to give that information to the members of the scheme. That is to any and all of you, I suppose.

Jane Vass: I will be brief, because I think on your point about collective schemes and pension schemes in general—in the auto-enrolment world, it is not actually the consumer’s choice; so that, I think, changes the dynamic. It is very much the employer’s choice, and you need to look at how the whole system hangs together; so one of the questions would be how it works if you move from scheme to scheme.

In terms of the take-up of guidance, we would certainly hope that it would be taken up, but I think we have to recognise that at the starting point we would need to move it much further down the line; so I think that having a really highly regarded system that is not too restrictive—that is personalised—so that people get that customer interaction they are looking for, will start to build consumer trust in it. Does that help?

Dr Ros Altmann: I think you are correct that the new pension freedoms do take away some of the attraction of a kind of hybrid scheme—defined ambition, collective  arrangements—because the individual may at the end of the day decide they want to take their pot; and most CDC schemes, and certainly the collective defined contribution schemes, which still have an element of risk-sharing, tend to rely on the money staying in rather than disappearing at the point of retirement.

Nevertheless, maybe one could look at what I have called, to distinguish it from collective DC, pooled DC, which is a collective arrangement but only so far as the assets are pooled. One of the big problems we have at the moment is that for the accumulation stage we are trying to help people one by one. That inevitably means we do not capture the same kind of economies of scale. We do not necessarily have access to the same range of asset classes that you might have with a big pool of assets such as we currently have for DB schemes. I would also argue that the investment approach for defined contribution in the UK is significantly far behind the investment approach that is now prevalent in defined benefit, perhaps to the detriment of the members. Generally, DC investments are run as DB used to be run many years ago; DB schemes and trustees have learned quite a lot since then. Having a bigger pool of assets that can really be invested for the long run I think still has merit, even if we then allow people access to a pot at retirement, and do not have the same protections on the ultimate pension benefit payout but maybe protections on the Government pot that they get at the point of retirement.

From the point of view of looking at what an employer might choose to do, it is difficult to see them, in the private sector, signing up to the really quite strict restrictions on defined benefit as they are outlined in the Bill. In terms of the shared risk, you could see that at least some private sector employers may be attracted to that. How we make it work better for members is an important issue, and I do not think allowing them total freedom at retirement necessarily undermines that case.

On your second question, of course I hope that the guidance will be taken up. I have done some survey work and others have, too, to see what people are currently saying. In our recent survey, about 56% suggested they would like to take up face-to-face guidance, but the critical part for me is that they have to know it exists and have to understand what it is, so in a way section 333B of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which would be inserted by the Bill and which says that the Treasury “must” ensure people have access to guidance, is right, but then it says only that the Treasury “may” increase awareness or do research or promote the guidance in some way. I would prefer to see “must”, certainly at the beginning, so that it is essential that this is promoted.

We are doing really good stuff. If we get this working correctly—I hope we will; there is a significant likelihood that we can and certainly we should be able to—people need to know about it. They need to have confidence. I think that is why we have chosen the partners that we have. We want people to trust it. Clearly, there is a lack of trust in the industry. I am talking about the marketing and promotion of this service. If it really is good, let us shout that from the rooftops and get people to come and take part in it.

Chris Curry: To start with the first question and collective defined-contribution or defined-ambition schemes and whether what was announced in the Budget—the freedom and choice—undermines that, the first thing we have to bear in mind is that we are not really clear yet  on what the implications of the freedom and choice changes will be. We do not know how many people will be taking lump sums, how many people will want to be staying invested and drawing out periodically during their retirement, and how many will still be interested in securing an income through annuities at one point or another. The international evidence is mixed: how people actually react depends very much on the environment in which the system operates and the tax advantages and the treatment of annuities.

We also need to bear in mind that a lot of focus around the Budget changes relates to next April, when everything comes online. The collective DC agenda is talking about a much longer time frame and a very different group of people. That builds into where the automatic enrolment agenda has come from. We know that some people who reach pension age and will be drawing down pensions from April onwards have been automatically enrolled, but the vast majority of people who are automatically enrolled will not be reaching an age at which they take money out for another 10, 20 or 30 years. By that stage, we might find that what people do when they reach that age is very different from what people who reach pension age now do—their characteristics will be different and they will have had very different types of pension arrangements with them. They will probably have spent a lot of time in DC, whereas people at the moment might have some DC, some DB. Housing wealth might also be very different.

We have to bear in mind that very different time frames are involved here. With that in mind, we can still see how something that is not defined benefit—I agree with Ros that outside the public sector there is not going to be much appetite for carrying on with that. There will be some—it will not disappear completely—but I do not think that it is likely grow in the near future. The defined contribution issues are around whether that is the right level of risk for individuals to be taking. Something that tries to share that risk in whatever way, whether with an employer or an insurance company, or between other members of that pool or between generations, probably gives people more of an opportunity to have a little bit more certainty and potential stability in what they might be able to achieve.

It is also important to bear in mind that it is not necessarily just a stark choice between DB, DC or DA. We could envisage a system in which all of those are operating and, in fact, to preclude one type or another would be to limit options, which goes against the freedom-of-choice agenda, which is trying to give people more ways of operating that.

On the transparency issue, there are always different levels of engagement and different ways in which people view arrangements. You could argue that although people in DC schemes and automatic enrolment are given lots of information, they do not necessarily understand how it works. The vast majority of them are in a default fund and the vast majority of them will not be thinking about the workings of what is going on, so a lot of the transparency issue is down to communication and how people understand what they are entitled to and not entitled to, what they will get and not get, rather than necessarily the underlying workings of the scheme. There is a big challenge for all types of schemes to be transparent about what people can get and can expect, and the risks and uncertainty around that.

On the guidance issue, I think the guidance guarantee is a recognition that individuals will need help. At the moment, it is focused clearly on the point of retirement, when people will need help to decide what to do. As Dr Altmann pointed out, we have known for a long time that people have needed help there and have not necessarily had that help. The real challenge, as recent research has shown, is to get people to take advantage of that guidance. One of the most telling parts of the discussion over the past 15 years in pensions has been the introduction of automatic enrolment, because we know that people do not engage, even if it is in their own best interest. With a guidance guarantee, a similar thing could happen. It is in people’s interest to be able, free of charge, to speak to someone who can help them to make what is an important decision for them.

There are conflicting views on that. We have had evidence about asking people what they planned to do, if they would like to take advantage of this when offered to them, and of course most people say yes. We have also had pilot schemes where people have had the opportunity to take advantage of it, but less than 2.5% of people have taken it up. So there is a real challenge in making sure that people get the help that they need, but the introduction of the guidance guarantees a very good first step in helping people.

Q 203

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Jane, can I ask you something first? I imagine that Age UK has a particular concern around the impact of changes in the pensions landscape on older individuals. Previous witnesses discussed to some considerable extent the issue of how one gets safeguards into the processes around guidance, particularly with the new draw-down products. What is Age UK’s sense of how robust those safeguards are as things stand? In what direction might they travel?

Jane Vass: One of the points that we picked up in responding to the FCA on the retirement reforms in September was that there is a gap in what happens between someone going to the provider and taking the advice. Also, what happens when someone does not take advice? The truth is that we simply do not know how many people will. We hope that people will, but we think that consumer-facing guidance needs to go hand in hand with industry-facing regulation. You cannot put all the responsibility on the consumer, but I think we need to delve down carefully into where the detriment is.

If somebody comes to the provider and says, “I want my money and I want it now,” I think the provider absolutely must say, “Have you taken advice? Are you aware of the impact on your tax situation?”, which I suspect might be quite a useful question to ask people and encourage them to go back to guidance—and indeed, try to understand some of the reasons why they are so desperate. Is there a debt situation involved, in which case they should definitely be referred back to debt advice?

If somebody is considering rolling over with the existing provider, again, I think we need safeguards there. I am a bit anxious about the concept of just asking people a list of questions and getting them to tick a box, because we know in the past that sometimes less reputable providers have used that as an opportunity to get people to tick the box and then say, “It wasn’t me, guv. They said they were okay.” In that case, I think we  would be looking at building sensible defaults into the system. You may say it is a system that is not set up for defaults, but actually, any provider who limits choices is, in a way, providing a default, but also providing straightforward choices.

The FCA will need to be active and vigilant and needs to be talking to companies now about what their plans are, challenging them on how that will meet the suitability requirements and considering the products. Are products being brought in with irrevocable terms and conditions that will make it very difficult for people to get out of them? For example, there needs to be exploration and perhaps some work on exit fees and any restrictive terms like that, and if that turns out to be a problem, it will have to act fast and, potentially, consider some form of quality assurance scheme—caps on charges, that sort of thing. It will have to move quickly, and in the meantime, the guidance is a really vital back-up.

We would hope to see a programme of research, and we agree with Ros that the Treasury should be required to carry out research to ask, for example, “Who is taking up the guidance?” and, “If they are not taking up the guidance, why?” and to track different forms of engagement—so, to test the box-ticking approach of people who come to them against different sorts of questions and to use the behavioural knowledge that we are gaining, to find the best way forward.

Q 204

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Does it seem peculiar to you, Jane, and Age UK that just as the nettle is beginning to be grasped on charges and quality criteria in the “building the pot up” phase, that we are now moving into a greater emphasis on draw down, without those same safeguards?

Jane Vass: It is a real concern that the products that come in will be expensive and complicated. In the past, innovation has not always worked in the interests of consumers—consider structured capital at risk products a few years back—so we think that it is important to learn from that. For example, we would be very concerned if people were moving money unnecessarily out of a charge-capped fund into a very expensive, complicated fund, so we do need to keep a lid on charges and look across the industry at what best practice is.

Q 205

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Ros, you addressed some of this in your response to questions from other members of the Committee. I noted down that you were calling on the FCA to ensure proper compliance with treating customers fairly. We know that in the wider contract pensions space, that criteria has not always worked effectively when put against the pressure to deliver for shareholders. How would you like to see the FCA make that commitment manifest and effective for savers? What specifically should it do to ensure that customers are treated fairly in this new draw-down space?

Dr Ros Altmann: Consumers have been left in the dark and at the mercy of the providers for years. Providers must be required to know who they are selling something to before they sell it. In other words, I believe they must be required to ask some fundamentally important questions of whoever it is they are selling a product to, whether or not that person has had guidance, but particularly if they have not had guidance. The problem is that we do  not know how many people will take up the guidance, so we have to assume that a customer coming along may not have had guidance and therefore needs this extra safeguard.

The questions need to go to the heart of the product being sold. In other words, “Have you explored the ‘do nothing’ option if you are still working?” “Are you still working?” is a very important question. “Do you have other pensions?” is another very important question. The provider who is selling a product does not want to know that, because they want to sell you the product, but the product is not necessarily what the customer needs or what is best for them.

“Have you got any serious health issues?” is a very important question, which nobody is required to ask. If you are about to sell someone a standard annuity, they need protection against that. They need some question that identifies them as having a health issue, which would mean the provider could not then say that selling them a standard annuity that assumes they are healthy was appropriate.

“Do you have a partner—an unpensioned partner—who needs covering?” is also a very important question that needs to be asked before somebody buys a product that does not cover a partner. There is a list of questions, which is not that long and which providers should always have asked and should always have been required to ask but have not asked, and we could now ensure that they do ask them before selling a product.

It would be ideal if the default option was a “do nothing” option, so that you have to make a positive choice to do something. The alternative is to leave your money there if you do not need it. Then, if you really do need it, you have to engage with that choice, but if you do not need it, there is a default that says, “Leave it to grow,” as we have been trying to do. I mean, we have put so many billions of pounds into tax relief for pensions; we just do not want to see it wasted any more at the point of retirement, if we can possibly help it.

In addition, I would like to see trustees of pension schemes—who we have not talked about yet, because they are a TPR issue rather than a FCA issue—also being required to take care of their members at the point of retirement, in a way that they have not been. Until now, it has apparently been an adequate discharge of their duty just to send members to an annuity-selling service, without ensuring that they have got the right type of annuity. Perhaps there needs to be more emphasis placed on trustees to ensure that members get the guidance, for example. That is something that trustees, who are usually trusted by their members, could ensure happens.

We need to put safeguards in place, which the FCA and the Pensions Regulator can require, that ensure that—much more effectively than we have done in the past—the products that are being sold to somebody have a good chance of being suitable for them. And of course we must then ensure that the FCA follows up to check that that is actually happening and that, if there is an unsuitable sale, it is not just a case of, “Well, sorry, you mis-bought. It’s nothing to do with the selling process,” which appears to be where customers fall down at the moment. The customer goes along and the provider says, “Well, you signed the form. You had your wake-up pack with all the information.” Well, if you have ever looked at these wake-up packs, they are  guaranteed to put you to sleep; nobody can understand the language being used in them. If we had a one-page form that says, “This is the size of your pension fund, and this is a particular feature of your fund,” it could be standardised. It has never been standardised and therefore people just do not have a chance to understand it properly and need protecting.

Chris Curry: I would like to concentrate on the group of people who we know are not really going to engage, and who probably will not take up the guidance or advice. I think both Jane and Ros have mentioned it. There is a strong case for very strong defaults in any system. What we know from our studies of behaviour of people coming up to retirement and people who have taken up a guidance guarantee when offered, and from survey evidence of when people think they are likely to retire and when they will decide about it, is that people leave it late to make decisions. They generally follow the path of least resistance in what they want to do. I think there is a strong case for defaults that start to kick in maybe 10 or 15 years before retirement.

The way that a pension fund is invested and de-risked in the build-up to a particular point when someone may or may not think they are likely to retire is important. A default strategy that can cope with uncertainty, given that we know that people may still have to take late decisions as to whether they carry on working or not, depending on how well their fund has performed and such issues, is really important. For the vast majority of people the default situation in a relatively small number of very big auto-enrolment schemes will be critical.

What happens with NEST, the People’s Pension, Now, and Legal & General is going to have a big impact on a large number of people. Those defaults need to be designed in such a way that they can cope with flexibility. If you do not know exactly when people are going to start taking their money or if they are going to take it as a lump sum or if they are going to want to buy an annuity with some of it or keep it invested, something that can cope with that is never going to be the best outcome for any particular individual, but is not a bad outcome for anyone. That is an important part of what we are looking at here.

It is also important to reiterate something I mentioned earlier. This is not something that it is necessarily possible to get right for April. In fact, whatever you have in place in April might well not be what you need to have in place five, 10 or 15 years’ later. It is important to see this as not just a one-off change in the market and everything changing. This is the start of an evolutionary process where providers are going to have to be very aware of who are members of their schemes and what they are likely to want to do in future.

Q 206

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Thank you. Chris, the Minister asked you about the debate over contract versus trust. I think it is fair to rephrase the Minister’s question as, “Have there been some circumstances and times and places where contract has worked better than trust in this space?” On balance overall, given the challenges we are talking about around this new world of draw-down, in your judgment what system of governance is necessary and most likely to deliver a decent outcome for all savers?

Chris Curry: It is difficult to say that one is always going to be better than the other. The key things are to have a strong governance framework and alignment of  interests. Where you have that in a trustee framework that is very clear-cut. You have trustees with a fiduciary duty. Their role is to get the best for their members.

What I was trying to say earlier was that that is not impossible outside of a trust-based framework. You and the people you have involved just have to work hard at it and be incredibly clear. In some cases, it does come down to having the right people doing it. You can get good trustees and bad trustees. There are good people in the contract world and providers in the contract world who do not put as much emphasis on this. The key things are having a clear alignment of interests, a very strong governance framework and making it obvious what people are doing and why. As you said, that might be easier in a trust-based world, but it does not mean it cannot happen in a different world.

Q 207

Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In your judgment, on balance it is more likely to be easier to achieve in a trust?

Chris Curry: It has happened more often internationally in a trust-based system.

Q 208

Chris Curry: So do I.

Q 209

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

We have only six minutes left, so I would be grateful if you could all be swift in answering. Jane, did Age Concern consider offering yourselves as people who might provide this guidance? Is this not something that naturally in future would be an area for you to try to take forward? Secondly, in terms of your current clients, many of whom are our constituents, what issues would you like to see covered specifically in the guidance?

Jane Vass: Age UK did express an interest in being involved, but we thought the right fit for us would be in supporting the delivery through some form of triage service, and working with experts such as the Pensions Advisory Service to help people to prepare for the guidance session, doing the nitty-gritty things like keeping track of their paperwork, and then helping people afterwards, and also providing the wrap-around service and links to other information and advice that they might need. In terms of our current clients and the guidance that people need, it is very nitty-gritty stuff. You cannot make truly informed decisions unless you also consider issues such as your debt, your tax position, your family circumstances, your housing, and your potential long-term care needs and suchlike.

Q 210

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

That is very helpful stuff. Chris, a more philosophical one, because you produce papers on all sorts of thoughtful issues. The changes that have come through from both DWP and Treasury suggest that we are gradually moving in the direction of a greater focus on savings and a lesser focus on pensions. What do you think the implications of that are, as far as you can concisely put them in about one minute?

Chris Curry: One minute? Thank you. What we have seen is a reduction in the constraints around pensions, which makes them look more like savings in some ways. However, at the moment, there is still a tax advantage attached to pensions, which is greater than that placed on most savings. I think there is a question for employers and employees about what they do as part of pension  arrangements. We still do not know exactly what is going to happen from April, and it might be that there is still a part of pension income that finds its way into securing a retirement income, which is probably a good thing and is really the aim of what is going on—the reason for having pensions.

I think this area will probably evolve further, and the more that the lines between savings and pensions become blurred, the more difficult it is to distinguish what the role of employers and the Government is in trying to provide support for those different types of saving.

Q 211

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

Do you think the big challenge will be about a source of guaranteed income?

Chris Curry: It will be interesting to see if people still have faith in annuities, given the reputation that they have had, which I think is difficult because there have been some very good annuity products available for people if they have been able to get the right guidance and advice to find them. Most of the research evidence suggests that people still want security in retirement and still want at least some element of fixed income, be that through an annuity or through a regular draw down, or even potentially through a collective DC arrangement. The challenge is to allow people to do that as much as they want and need to do it, but also allowing them some flexibility if they have anything in excess of that.

Q 212

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

Thank you. Ros, lots of things, really. You talked earlier about perhaps having a default that allowed people’s pensions to run on and then they would decide when they wanted to use them. The argument against that is the one about knowing what your income is going to be. For those people who do not have many other savings—individual savings accounts or whatever—what are they going to live off if they simply leave their pension in there to accumulate and grow once they have stopped working?

Dr Ros Altmann: Going back to the philosophical element, which is an important one, perhaps we should accept that the old idea of a guaranteed income in  retirement, as we have previously thought about it, is not quite so appropriate any more. The big issue that many people are going to face is funding long-term care, and a guaranteed income will not help you with that. I therefore feel that the changes that we have now could make pensions become much more of a family savings pool.

Q 213

Dr Ros Altmann: If you discourage people from spending the money altogether at the point of retirement, which is of course what an annuity does—it is in exchange for a stream of income, but nevertheless the money is all gone—there is a much more significant likelihood that at least some of that money will remain there for longer. The removal of the 55% tax charge on inherited funds, plus the ability to be more flexible with what you do with your pensions—

Q 214

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

And because it can be handed on, people might think of it more as a legacy?

Dr Ros Altmann: It suggests that the last thing you would want to spend, if you understood how these things worked, would be your pension. If you have ISAs, you spend those first. If you have a house, even, you use that money first. Keep the pension there. You could argue that the original idea of pensions was really to fund savings to look after you when you cannot look after yourself.

Photo of Linda Riordan Linda Riordan Labour, Halifax

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the panel for their evidence.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.