Master Trust schemes: definition

Part of Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 7th February 2017.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 9:45 am, 7th February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank you for the clarification of the rules concerning hot beverages, with which I am happy to comply.

The attitude that the Opposition, the Scottish National party and all of us have taken towards the Bill is to discuss it widely among ourselves and to agree as much as we can, which is positive. Our disagreements are honourable, and no one is playing politics or at opposition for the sake of it. I wanted to make that clear, Mr Rosindell, because I have served on Bill Committees, as I am sure you have, where that has not been the case.

The Opposition amendments and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley were tabled in the correct spirit. We had considered all the points in advance of the Bill being introduced and therefore in advance of the House of Lords proceedings and Second Reading in the Commons. Master trusts have been around for a long time, but they have grown exponentially in number over the past two years. The legislation is therefore a response not to a fundamental problem with master trusts, but to their exponential growth, pushed by auto-enrolment, and the industry seeing them as an area with a less stringent regulatory regime than other parts of the pension system. For example, insurance companies and personal pensions are regulated by the FCA under long-standing rules, and the non-master trust system is very different, because those trusts have one clear sponsoring employer and there are lots of rules and regulations under the Pensions Regulator.

The legislation is therefore meant to fill a gap. We are not filling the gap because of a disaster or problems that have arisen; we are trying to see what problems might arise. That has been the scope of discussions between the Government, Opposition and individuals, which has included some positive opposition in the other place. I hope that that will be true for most of our proceedings.

Opposition amendments 22 and 23 and the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley seek to change the Bill’s definition of a master trust. Amendment 22 would extend the definition to all schemes that offer money purchase benefits, which would include schemes used only by a single employer or by employers connected to each other. The proposal would extend the scope of the definition significantly and, therefore, of the authorisation regime disproportionately.

As the debate in the other place indicated, there is general acknowledgment that further regulation of master trusts is desirable and necessary. As I explained in my opening remarks, master trusts have developed into structures that are often very different from traditional occupational pension schemes offered by single employers or the more traditional group of connected corporate employers. They offer compelling benefits to employers and members. They spur competition in the market and allow for economies of scale, providing value for money. They are also an efficient solution for smaller employers for whom setting up an individual pension scheme for employees would be difficult, onerous, impractical and expensive.

We accept, however, that those qualities also bring about new risks. As I explained, those risks are less likely to be present in single employer or connected corporate defined contribution schemes. The authorisation regime is intended to address those risks. For example, in a single employer scheme—a traditional trust scheme—the employer is usually closely involved in the running of the scheme and has an active relationship with the trustees. In a master trust, the employer’s participation is often largely limited to paying the employer contribution, which is probably the most important part. I do not take that lightly, but the responsibility for the running and administration of the trust is clearly different from a single trust for a single employer. Additionally, in a single employer scheme, the employers determine the terms of the scheme, whereas in a master trust it is done for them, with the person or organisation setting up the scheme doing it.

Those differences highlight why the purpose of the Bill is to require authorisation and provide member protection in respect of master trusts. The risks are specific to this kind of scheme and it is therefore important that the definition reflects such schemes and does not extend beyond them. The clause establishes the proper scope of the Bill and ensures that its regulation is proportionate to the issues arising.

Amendment 23 was clearly explained by the hon. Member for Stockton North. It would amend clause 1(2), which provides that the Bill’s provisions apply to a master trust scheme only in so far as it provides money purchase benefits. That would mean that the provisions of the Bill would apply in relation to the scheme as a whole, and not just in relation to the parts of it that apply to money purchase benefits. Most master trusts will only provide money purchase benefits—that is the purpose of the vast majority of them—but it is fair to say that a number will provide money purchase and non-money purchase benefits. I agree with him that master trusts can do that legally and properly. It is not the norm but some do.

As I have already set out, the authorisation regime is intended specifically to address certain risks that apply to members in master trusts that relate to the structure and funding of such schemes. In particular, the Bill is focused on the risk around money purchase benefits, and we have been open about that. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, the Bill is focused in that way because there is already extensive regulation in relation to occupational pension schemes providing non-money purchase benefits—regulation already exists. Applying the authorisation regime to them would create duplication of regulation. He warned us about duplication, but the amendment would create duplication of regulation and add unnecessary costs and burdens to the running of those schemes, with little purpose in terms of protecting members, so far as we can see.

In addition, authorisation requirements are intentionally targeted at the risks relating to money purchase benefits. Conflict and confusion might arise if those requirements are applied across the board. For example, the provisions requiring the transfer of member benefits and wind up of a scheme might have a detrimental impact on members if applied in relation to non-money purchase benefits. It is important that the members of schemes with mixed benefits have the same standard of protection as members of schemes that only have money purchase benefits. That is why the authorisation regime applies to the money purchase aspect of such schemes. Extending authorisation to types of benefits for which it is not designed and where the risks do not arise in the same way would not be appropriate.

To answer a question asked by the hon. Member for Stockton North, I can confirm that the Government intend to include decumulation schemes—the decumulation products that he mentioned in his speech—in clause 41.