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 Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley 9:25 am, 7th February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to follow the shadow Minister. My remarks will be in a similar spirit to his, trying to probe the Government on how exactly they see master trusts being used, how they see the pensions landscape and how the two will mesh.

Amendment 32, which stands in my name, relates to how we deal with self-employed people who may end up in a master trust. That starts out as a technical question—as the Minister may know, I like to ask technical questions of legislation to see whether he has read it all and can trace it all through, because these things can be chased around. Under the definition in the Bill, a master trust must be an occupational pension scheme, which takes us back to the Pension Schemes Act 1993. An occupational pension scheme has to provide benefits in respect of earners with a qualifying service in an employment—such schemes do not provide benefits to earners who are self-employed in that situation. Therefore, on a high-level reading, if a scheme is providing benefits for people who are self-employed, technically it should not be an occupational pension scheme.

I assume that the answer to that particularly technical point will be that if in a master trust there are 5 million people who are employed and there are 10,000 who are self-employed, it does not get suddenly blasted out of being an occupational pension scheme and out of the regulations and drop back into the personal pension scheme regulations. I assume that the National Employment Savings Trust, which I think already markets itself to the self-employed, will not somehow have a change in its regulatory position by serving a few self-employed people.

It is not hard to foresee that the landscape might change, and it is pretty clear that we would quite like the landscape to change quite dramatically. We have a big problem with the lack of pension provision among people who are self-employed and, sadly, that problem is going the wrong way. Auto-enrolment has enrolled millions more employed people than ever before in a pension, but over the course of this century the number of people who are self-employed and actively in a pension scheme has decreased from about 1.2 million in 2002-03 to 380,000—and that is as the number of people who are self-employed has risen to more than 3.5 million. That is going completely the wrong way. Far more people are self-employed, yet far fewer of them are saving in a pension. That is not a healthy situation for them and their prospects in retirement, and it is not a particularly healthy position for us, considering how people will be able to look after themselves when they reach that age.

It is pretty clear that we need to find solutions that encourage more self-employed people to save into a pension and to take the various tax advantages that that provides. Hopefully, when the Government conduct their auto-enrolment review later in the year, one issue they will look at is whether we can extend, tweak or amend auto-enrolment to get to those many millions of people who are self-employed. Let us be honest: probably quite a large number of them would like to be employed or think they are employed—or perhaps we think they are legally, in substance, employed, yet their non-employer is somehow tweaking the rules to treat them as self-employed. How do we get those people to realise that pension savings is important to them? How do we get them into a simple scheme that is easy to administer?

It looks like auto-enrolment master trusts are the obvious vehicle that could cope with the scale of several million more people, who are probably generally on relatively low earnings, joining a pension scheme. They have the infrastructure and it is not hard to see how self-employed people could self-manage such schemes via online portals. It looks like, as a matter of policy, we would quite like to encourage all the big master trusts out there to start taking people who are self-employed. I suspect we would like to find a way.