NEWSLETTER    |     December 20, 2023

The Autumn Statement: Changes afoot?

In his Autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set forth a number of key pensions measures that the government will be seeking to implement in the near future which will affect both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes. This includes changes to the laws and taxation on pension scheme surpluses, as well as bringing forward some of the measures outlined in the Mansion House speech given earlier this year.

Whether the proposed measures have their intended effect (or come into force at all) will be subject to consultation and, potentially, the outcome of the upcoming general election.

In his Autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set forth a number of key pensions measures that the government will be seeking to implement in the near future.

Scheme surpluses

The Chancellor announced that the government will consult on changes to the rules around when defined benefit scheme surpluses can be repaid and look to introduce measures to protect members as part of an overhaul to the current regime. It was also announced that the current 35% tax rate on extracted surpluses will be reduced to 25% from 6 April 2024.

The tax charge has been a particular problem, put in place when corporation tax rates (the tax saved when making pension contributions) were much higher, but this is not the only problem with surpluses. The process to repay them is complex and often (depending on scheme rules) unavailable.

The problems around surplus repayment therefore strongly discourages employers from funding already well funded pension schemes, because of the risks of not getting any surplus returned. Given the improved funding levels in recent times, more schemes are in a surplus, or approaching, a surplus and employers are understandably reluctant to contemplate a surplus, leading to complex escrow structures to avoid this risk.

The proposed changes, therefore, are welcome and would go some way to tackle the current issues with extracting scheme surpluses.

Mansion House reforms

The Chancellor made it clear that the government is pressing ahead with the Mansion House reforms introduced earlier in the year. One of the key aims was to move towards fewer, larger defined contribution schemes and for the majority of these pots to be managed in larger schemes worth over £30bn by 2030. To this end, the government has announced plans to consult on a legal right for workers to require their new employer to pay pension contributions into an existing pot, rather than the employer’s own scheme. This may well be significantly more burdensome for employers than the current automatic enrolment requirements that allow the employer to pick the pension it provides.

The government is looking at other concerns around the Manson House proposals, including a call for evidence on a “lifetime provider model” (also referred to as a “pot for life”) to help simplify the market and a consultation on proposals for the Pension Protection Fund to act as an investment vehicle for small defined benefit schemes.

Lifetime Allowance

The abolition of the lifetime allowance was confirmed to be on schedule to take place by 6 April 2024. There were rumours that it may be pushed back to 2025 but it appears that the government is keen for this measure to be pushed through ahead of the general election, despite the tight timescales and the problematic early drafting.

State pension triple lock

The Chancellor further noted that the government will honour the pensions triple lock in full and so an 8.5% increase to state pensions will apply from April 2024. There were rumours of a reduced amount being awarded, taking into account public service pay increases throughout the year but it appears that the government continues to be fully committed to the triple lock policy.

Key takeaway

It is hoped that the proposed changes will address the long-standing issues of small pots and difficulties in extracting scheme surpluses that currently exist in defined contribution and defined benefit schemes respectively. The pensions industry will wait on the outcomes of the general election and respective consultations with bated breath.

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