Notification requirements

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 7th February 2017.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 3:15 pm, 7th February 2017

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 23, page 16, line 19, after “employers” insert “and members”.

This amendment would mean that members must be told of any triggering events, not just the employers.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 29, in clause 26, page 19, line 10, at end insert

“and Trustees should then notify members to this effect”.

This requires Trustees of the Master Trust to notify members once TPR is satisfied that the triggering event has been resolved.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I will continue to champion the members of master trusts this afternoon. The amendment would simply ensure that when triggering events happen, and if and when they are resolved, information on them flows right through the communication chain. As I said when I spoke on member engagement, it is important to understand that we need to put the member at the heart of the process. If members find out only at second hand about such events, which affect their hard-earned cash, it is bound to result in lower levels of trust—never mind all the anxiety and everything that goes with it. I pose the question: how would hon. Members feel if no one told them that there was an issue with their pension pot? I know that is rare for Members of Parliament, but if they had a separate pension pot and were not given that information, would they not be concerned? They would not be best chuffed, and they would want to know why they were not being informed.

Trust is vital, and it is at very low levels both in financial services and, more importantly, in us who make the law. How can we look our constituents in the eye if they ask us, “Why did you not put me first? It’s my money. It’s my retirement at risk”? There are those who claim that there are problems with reaching vast numbers of people, but this is the 21st century and it is not necessary to fell trees to make paper to send out hundreds of thousands of letters. It is a simple of chain of events, and if it can go to employers I believe it should also go to members.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Amendment 28 would require the trustees of a master trust that experiences a triggering event to notify all the members that the event has occurred and of other matters to be set out in regulations. The explanatory note to amendment 29 says that the intent is to require trustees to notify members once the regulator is satisfied that the triggering event has been resolved, but the effect of the amendment is a bit wider. It would require the trustees to inform members of the regulator’s decision—in other words, whether it is satisfied that the event had been resolved or not.

Clause 23 requires key people associated with the master trust to notify the Pensions Regulator if the scheme experiences a triggering event. Clause 26 sets out the framework for a scheme pursuing continuity option 2—in other words, the trustees aim to resolve the triggering event. The resolution is the important part of it. Once the trustees believe they have resolved the event, they submit evidence to that effect to the regulator. Having considered the evidence, the regulator notifies the trustees of whether it is satisfied that the event has been resolved. Our aim is for events to be resolved where possible. The scheme can then continue and members can keep saving in it. We have not required the trustees to notify members.

As the hon. Gentleman said, at the point that the triggering event happens, the trustees may be in discussions with the regulator and may not have reached a conclusion about whether the scheme will continue to operate or whether it will be wound up.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I accept that the triggering is the actual start of the process, and that there may well be discussions. At what point does the Minister think the members ought to be told that a triggering event has in fact taken place and that their scheme is in some doubt?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

To rebut that point—I emphasised the words “resolve” and “resolution”—we believe that the majority of triggering events will end up with a very satisfactory resolution. Remember, many members do not take an active decision to join; they join through their employer. They are not actively engaged in the scheme; their employer is the conduit, so providing incomplete information to members would cause undue distress and risk unintended consequences, such as members opting out of the scheme and stopping saving in a pension, when a resolution to the triggering event could very easily be agreed with the trustees or, indeed, opposed by the regulator.

If a scheme resolves its triggering event and continues to operate, I do not see why members should see any change. It is exactly the same for them: their pension saving will not be disrupted. I would not want them to be unduly alarmed or confused. The intervention of the regulator during the triggering event period, and the additional controls that are put in place during that period, will help to ensure the scheme gets back on track.

If the scheme is going to wind up—I believe this is the relevant point—members will be informed well ahead of anything directly impacting on them, and will be given the information and options.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

If the members are going to be told about the wind-up, where in the regulations is the requirement for the master trust to inform them?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The regulations have not yet been published, but the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.

The aim behind these clauses is to ensure that members continue to save into a pension because they do not believe that the sky is falling in—the entire system is intended to ensure that that is not the case. To that end, members are not informed at such an early stage as is proposed in amendment 28, because of the adverse implications that could have and the absence of any practical advantage for members. What advantage would that provide to members, given that the matter will be resolved? There does not appear to be an obvious benefit.

However, I recognise how important it is that members are informed well ahead of something happening that might have a direct impact on them and—I think this is the core of the hon. Gentleman’s point—disrupt their pension saving. I am confident that the measures included in the Bill, and those proposed for inclusion in regulations, will achieve that outcome. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I am particularly interested to know what proposals there might be in regulations to ensure that the member is told, whether at the winding-up stage or when it first has an impact on them, and how that will be defined. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point before I sit down. I accept that it is particularly important that members are engaged throughout the process. Unfortunately, the Minister does not agree with me on that point. I believe that there is no more key a person in this chain than the member, but I accept that they should be informed when it is a significant thing affecting their lives. The Minister might like to intervene to explain what proposal there will be in regulations to ensure that members are informed when there is a material impact on their pension pot. Otherwise, at this stage I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24