I have highlighted the issue of legacy debt in LGPS in numerous previous bulletins, in numerous publications and at events. The whole issue is often met with some degree of disbelief. Rightly organisations question why should they be made responsible for pension liabilities which belong to someone else and why are public bodies taking the opportunity to avoid costs which are rightfully theirs.
Pension Funds and Councils are just choosing to avoid the issue and Government are just choosing to put it in the too difficult pile and ignore.
At the start of the year I issued an open letter to the Work & Pensions Committee to see if they would be prepared to raise the problem as the number of organisations I’m witnessing who are experiencing difficulties as a result of this issue has increased very significantly over the past number of months, I suspect as membership numbers in LGPS within charities continue to fall having closed schemes to new entrants.
I strongly believe that there is a potential tidal wave facing the charitable sector linked to this issue and the wider cessation debt regulation. Statistics compiled by Scottish Government back in 2014 for their schemes identified that of 422 admission bodies 223 had no guarantor. Of these 102 had fewer than 5 members and so were close to the point where they would have to manage a cessation.
Two LGPS Funds looked at the financial position in their schemes which showed that for organisations with 5 or less members the funding position moved from around £1.93m in surplus on an on-going basis to around £9.4m deficit on a cessation basis. This very much resonates with my experience and I suspect the gap has widened since 2014.
Based on these numbers I would expect that the position in England and Wales would be 8-10 times greater, so these issues could affect in the region of 2000 other charities and account for deficits approaching £80-£100m a material proportion of which relates to liabilities transitioned surreptitiously from local authority to unsuspecting charities.
A small number of LGPS have recognised the issue and made changes to deal with it but they are very much in the minority as the majority continue to stubbornly cling to the inequitable status quo.
Recent changes to the Scottish LGPS Regulations wholly ignored the issue and it was also studiously ignored by the Tier 3 review in England & Wales carried out towards the end of 2018.
The response from the Work & Pensions Committee has been positive and they have referred the matter to the Pensions Minister. I thank them for that. I will publish the letter and any response when it is received.
In the interim I would ask LGPS Funds to review this issue and to decide to ‘do the right thing’.