Master Trust schemes: definition

Part of Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 7th February 2017.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 9:25 am, 7th February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and I am sure it will continue to be so throughout this Committee stage.

Before I get into detail of Labour’s first tabled amendments, 22 and 23, it might be helpful if I set out how we plan to approach Committee stage. As I said on Second Reading, we broadly support what the Bill seeks to do, but we have serious concerns about what the Bill does not seek to do, the issues in the pensions landscape that it fails to address, and the significant sections of policy detail pushed into secondary legislation.

I note that my new clause 5, which is designed to introduce pension credit for women born in the 1950s and whose retirement age has been accelerated, has not been selected. I say only that it is lamentable that the Bill is not broader. I am also concerned about the dependency on secondary legislation because the Government are not yet in a position to share the detail of their intentions. I know that not everything can be in the Bill, but the Constitution Committee wrote to the Government expressing strong concern about the lack of information provided in primary legislation. I hope that the Government will take the Select Committee’s caution seriously and that we can ensure that in this case the primary legislation properly sets out the Government’s intentions.

Amendment 22 raises the question why single-employer occupational schemes are excluded from the scope of the Bill and why connected employers are therefore effectively treated as a separate entity. As it stands, the Bill’s provisions regulate neither single nor connected employer arrangements. We appreciate that a line must be drawn somewhere in attempting to develop a suitable regulatory framework in the face of a wide array of occupational pension arrangements. The amendment offers the Government the opportunity to clarify the bounds of their new regulatory environment and to justify their decision to draw the boundaries where they lie in the Bill. We want the parameters of the regulatory framework to be clear.

We accept that the master trust regime is focused on schemes with particular risks, but does there not have to be consistency across the piece? The definition of a master trust covers an array of different arrangements and there is nothing simple about it—getting my head around it has taken me some time. It can cover schemes set up by unregulated businesses as well as those set up by regulated businesses, such as insurance companies or investment managers. It can also cover what are described as “white label” master trusts, which are set up by a pension providers, with commercial or non-commercial partners being allowed to brand their sections of the trust. Others may have partnering arrangements with large employers whereby each employer gets its own section of the master trust but does not make any profit from it. Schemes that are included can be industrywide, can include two or more unassociated companies, and can be in the university, charitable and religious sectors. Given the broad range of different situations, on what basis do the Government believe that it is appropriate to draw the line to exclude single unconnected employer arrangements?

The probing amendment would also delete from the definition of a master trust the exclusion of those schemes that are to be used only by connected employers. In the debate in the other place, I believe the Minister clarified that when a single group employer takes on a non-associated one and it is intended that all will participate in the scheme, the scheme will then fall under the regime. Will the Government confirm that that remains the case?

It would also be good to have further clarification of what the position would be when a joint venture has run its course and the scheme reverts to being used only by connected employers. In that instance, how do the Government justify the juxtaposition of a connected group of employers being outside the scope of the Bill whereas another connected group of similar size but with just one small associated employer would presumably be inside it? The distinguishing line is very thin.

Do the Government envisage circumstances in which clause 41 would be used to bring within the scope of the Bill a single employer occupational pension scheme? Clearly, the Bill provides that power to the Secretary of State. In fact, the power set out in the Bill is very broad, so I look forward to the Minister’s response on those issues.

I note that in amendment 32, the hon. Member for Amber Valley has sought to address the lack of access for self-employed people. I picked up that theme in new clause 4, which addresses both that and other groups currently excluded from master trust scheme membership. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s speech.

Amendment 23 is a probing amendment to elicit clarification regarding what happens Bill to non-money purchase benefits in master trusts. Clause 1(1)(a), taken together with other clauses, means that the Bill applies only to money purchase benefits provided through a master trust and excludes non-money purchase benefits. As I am sure the Minister is aware, the exclusion of non-money purchase benefits would mean that members’ benefits provided by those schemes, including retirement products, are excluded from key protections in the Bill. That does not seem fair or sensible, given the Bill’s intention to provide stronger protection for scheme members.

Master trusts currently provide a range of services both to employers under auto-enrolment and to individuals exercising pension freedoms. Those can include annuities, guaranteed drawdown and investment products, which include some form of guaranteed rate of return. One example could be when annuity payments are paid to the member while the annuity supporting those payments may be held as an asset of the scheme, rather than in the name of the member. Pension freedoms are beginning to transform the market radically for guaranteed income products, but pension savers will still have an appetite for some form of guaranteed product. The Bill will not apply to non-money purchase benefits, so it is unclear what happens to those benefits and, importantly, the assets backing them when a master trust fails.

In the other place, my noble Friend Baroness Drake raised an example of a trust that allows members to add in other savings and assets such as ISAs and property used for funding retirement. Everybody I meet acknowledges Baroness Drake to be a pensions expert in every sense. She believes that of the approximately 100 master trusts, only 59 are being used for auto-enrolment, with others having developed out of the pension freedom reforms.

Regulation should anticipate that master trusts will expand further into the decumulation market of retirement products. With that in mind, the exclusion of non-money purchase benefits from the primary legislation raises a number of questions. It is not clear what happens to the treatment of all non-money purchase benefits and the assets backing them in the event of a wind-up or other triggering event occurring. Will those members’ benefits be protected against funding the costs of a triggering event? How and where will they be transferred on exit?

In the other place, the Minister suggested that there is already extensive regulation to ensure that members’ non-money purchase benefits are protected. He called further regulation in this regard “unnecessary and disproportionate”. It seems odd that in this instance the Minister seems intent on minimising duplication, yet the Government continue to require duplication of regulation in some cases around the separate legal entity. The boundary line of the legislation appears a little murkier.

We note that in Government amendment 20, Ministers have acknowledged the lack of clarity around money purchase benefits and non-money purchase benefits raised by my noble Friend Baroness Drake, but we are a little disappointed that the amendment does not seek to provide greater protection to non-money purchase benefits under mixed schemes. Instead, it merely clarifies that the Bill protects only money purchase benefits within a mixed scheme. That is deeply disappointing for us for the reasons I have just outlined. I therefore request that the Government confirm absolutely that members of master trusts providing them with non-money purchase benefits face no additional risk as a result of that gap.

Will all retirement products with an element of guarantee be covered by the Pension Protection Fund regime? Master trusts are not regulated by the FCA, so where does the saver look for protection? Secondly, the continuity strategy required under clause 13 in the event of a wind-up will have to set out how the interests of members of a scheme in receipt of money purchase benefits are to be protected in a triggering event. Currently, it will not have to set out how members in receipt of non-money purchase benefits will be protected. Such a requirement would at least clarify what range of member benefits were in the master trust.

Will the master trust be required to set out how members with non-money purchase benefits will also be protected if a triggering event occurs? I am sure that the Minister will recognise these very genuine concerns and I look forward to his response.