Open market option for all?

Alan Collins

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I read with interest the guidance to individuals with money purchase benefits published on 2 November by the Pensions Regulator (tPR) and echo comments from Pensions Minister Steve Webb that “choices we make at retirement are amongst the most important of our lives” and “shopping around can provide better value for money and significantly boost retirement income”, and those from tPR’s acting Chief Executive Bill Galvin who has stated that “members could miss out on a higher retirement income because they are not well-supported in making good choices”.

The engagement of the Pensions Regulator in the education process within occupational defined contribution schemes is welcome, and emphasis has rightly been given to the potential benefits to members of obtaining independent financial advice. In particular, the guidance should act as a reminder to Trustees of schemes which provide both defined benefits and money purchase benefits that the members with money purchase benefits deserve due care and attention.

However, the guidance appears to be in stark contrast to the regulatory approach and pending legislation governing defined benefit arrangements, particularly those containing contracted-out rights. The “presumption of guilt” surrounding transferring benefits out of a defined benefit arrangement, and the potential end to the ability to transfer contracted out rights from defined benefit to money purchase arrangements in 2012, would seem to be at odds with the ethos of encouraging members to make choices which best suit their own circumstances.

For example, the value contained in some defined benefits (such as a prescribed level of pension increases or spouse’s pensions where the member is single or where the spouse already has a substantial pension), could be used to provide alternative benefits which are more suited to the needs of the individual concerned. Also the value of a money purchase pension pot can be retained on the death of the member, whereas this event may cause the value of a defined benefit to be significantly eroded .

I would therefore ask that members of defined benefit arrangements continue to be afforded the same opportunities to exercise their “Open Market Option” in the future.

Alan Collins

Post by Alan Collins

Head of Trustee Advisory Services at Spence he provides actuarial, funding and investment advice to trustees and sponsors of ongoing defined benefit schemes.